As the end of the year approaches, and the second wave of COVID-19 is on the rise in South Africa. It is important to understand the stigma that comes along with COVID-19.

Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. As a result, in an outbreak, many people are labelled and discriminated against. People will also experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease. The current COVID-19 outbreak has caused social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.

Why is COVID-19 causing so much stigma?

According to WHO (2020), the level of stigma associated with COVID-19 is based on three main factors:

COVID-19 is a disease that’s new and for which there are still many unknowns.

We are often afraid of the unknown.

It is easy to associate that fear with others.

It is understandable that there is confusion, anxiety, and fear among the public. These factors fuel harmful stereotypes.

Stigmatization of COVID-19 Takes a Significant Emotional Toll on Its Victims.

Throughout history, people have stigmatized certain illnesses and disabilities and ostracized or ridiculed the people who suffer from these challenges. As most of us are taught to care about those who are coping with illness. Stigmas may limit our willingness to support the people we care about.

What is the impact?

Stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread. This can result in more severe health problems and difficulties controlling a disease outbreak.

Effects of COVID-19 Stigma:

  • Drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination.
  • Prevent people from seeking health care immediately.
  • Discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours.

Combatting COVID-19 Stigma If You Have Been Diagnosed

  • With stigmatization, the behaviour being shown needs to be addressed.
  • Describe to the perpetrator how their words or actions make you feel.
  • Describe the impact of what they are doing to help them grow their empathy.
  • Talk about the assumptions that you feel others are making.
  • Ask for what you would prefer that they say or do. This activity can provide them with education. In case they do not know what they should be doing instead.
  • To help eradicate bad behaviour, do not just walk away from the conversation, show your courage and strength through persistence and commitment to the cause (PsychologyToday).

By Sengwane Heide