Coronavirus infection cases are rising in huge numbers. By now, it is quite likely that you may already know someone from your social circle suffering from COVID-19 or someone taking care of them. While we all must practice social distancing, many patients are finding it difficult to quarantine themselves or cope with the diagnosis, fearing stigma and shaming. Sadly, tackling COVID-19 has also resulted in mass hysteria.
In India alone, the outbreak has resulted in stigmatization to the extent that some patients are actually avoiding screening so as to run away from the tag of being a “COVID-19” patient. Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor, who was tested positive for coronavirus was met with a slurry of abuses and insensitive comments for her “ignorant” attitude. With many getting quarantine tags and stickers, people are shunning and putting the blame on infected people for “bringing home” a disease or being “negligent”. People are also fleeing from quarantine to avoid the name and shame of being “coronavirus positive”. Globally too, the outbreak has led to such great fear and people of Chinese descent received a lot of judgement and harsh criticism.

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While these are just numbered incidents, stigma has been always associated with the spread of an outbreak of a communicable disease. What we do not realize is that it is just as bad as the disease in itself. Not only are people afraid of falling prey to the disease, but they are also adding to the stigma surrounding it, which is even more dangerous.
Stop the stigma just as you stop the virus

Stigma in any form is bad. It does not just reflect badly on us, as a human being, it has potentially dangerous repercussions as well, on someone who is sick or exposed to the stigma. Any kind of stigma- be it social, physical or mental can take a big toll on an individual and hamper progress.

Even though coronavirus can spread when you are not careful about your hygiene, it is not always ‘deliberately’ spread by an infected person, much like any other disease. Coronavirus, much like any other disease can also turn to anxiety.

Dr. Dr Johnsey Thomas, Senior Psychologist , Aster Prime Hospital says, “Fear and anxiety about disease can be devastating and cause sharp emotions, particularly during uncertain times of Covid -19. However, too much anxiety can start to cause harm.”

It is crucial to remember that any kind of panic, hysteria and stigma will only spread the disease further and negate any effect of suppressing it. Plus, it affects a patient’s mental psyche and overall well-being as well. The fear of spreading the disease onto other caretakers is also something which grapples patients. Most people fear isolation or transmitting the infection to others, which traumatizes them to an extent that they try to escape from it, which is a bigger threat to COVID-19 spread.

Many researches say that stigma can not just spell fear, but also turn into aggravated stress, anxiety or even depressive trigger for the patient. Being refuted, denied or shamed at a vulnerable time like this, when the body needs utmost care can also bring on additional psychological trauma for the patient and slow down recovery.

Growing panic and fear can also affect widespread testing, which is the need of the hour and stop people from getting the help they need, many experts say. People, who may exhibit symptoms, or are sick are likely to avoid or escape testing and seek necessary treatment so as to not be chastised by society, which is all the more worrying.

Dr Prajakta Gupte, Psychiatrist and Counselor at Jupiter Hospital, Mumbai also believes that this is the time authorities need to lay high stress on awareness and not panic, ” Fearing the disease won’t help. Be aware, and be mindful. Reach out to the people who are helping out, or those in isolation who need your support and care the most. If you practice vital precautions and be safe, there is no need to worry unneccessarily.”

Hence, it is crucial that the stigma should be done away the same way as the chain of transmission in battling the current war against coronavirus.

What can you do?
The number one priority has to be education and awareness. The more people are aware and misconceptions are cleared, the better the society functions.

A lot of celebrities (the likes of Tom Hanks and his wife Rita being the first ones) and a lot of people have come forward to share their stories of how they met with the infection and urged people to not fuel rumours. It’s important to look and reflect back on them and seek inspiration from.

Just as you take care of your body, mental well-being too of those around you, including the ones who are at risk needs to be taken care of. Scheduling meetups (social distancing approved) or virtually connecting to them is a great way to make them feel loved. Check up on them, offering to take care of their needs and essentials during this time will be a good measure.

The doctor further adds, “During a crisis like situation, remember that feeling haywire is normal. It’s happening to many of us. Focus on the things you can control, be kind to yourself and the ones around you instead of adding to the stigma. I would highly suggest picking up meditation or yoga, which can balance your chakras during stressful times.”

If your loved one is in trouble, and afraid to go under quarantine, it is your duty to help them sail through this tough time. Quarantine, lockdown or isolation are all for your own good. The person who is sick needs the most care right now and any kind of injustice only hampers the recovery. Patients need to be calmed down, offered assistance and a few helpful positive words from a support group or doctors can do wonders.

Remember, COVID-19 crisis is a situation which needs to be handled in a gentle way. The virus is the enemy and not the person suffering from it. It is only when you act responsibly as a whole we can defeat the virus.

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