Reducing Stigma

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control Reducing Stigma Webpage

Stigma occurs when people associate a risk with a specific people, place, or thing – like a minority population group – and there is no evidence that the risk is greater in that group than in the general population. Stigmatization is especially common in disease outbreaks.

Public health emergencies are stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease, like COVID-19, can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.

Some groups of people who may be experiencing stigma because of COVID-19 include:

  • Persons of Asian descent
  • People who have traveled
  • Emergency responders or healthcare professionals

It is important to remember that people – including those of Asian descent – who do not live in or have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than other Americans. (CDC)

How Stigma Impacts Individuals and Communities

Misinformation about coronavirus and COVID-19 can create fear and hostility that hurts people and makes it harder to keep everyone healthy. We’re stronger as a community when we stand together against discrimination.

Stigmatized groups may be subjected to:

  • Social avoidance or rejection
  • Denials of healthcare, education, housing or employment
  • Physical violence.

Stigma affects the emotional or mental health (of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient. 

Countering Stigma for Individuals

Adapted from the Washington State Health Department

  • Rely on and share trusted sources of information.
  • Speak up if you hear, see, or read stigmatizing or harassing comments or misinformation.
  • Show compassion and support for individuals and communities more closely impacted.
  • Avoid stigmatizing people who are in quarantine. They are making the right choice for their communities.
  • Do not make assumptions about someone’s health status based on their ethnicity, race or national origin.
Countering Stigma for Behavioral Health Professionals

Adapted from the Washington State Health Department

  • Stay updated and informed on COVID-19 to avoid miscommunication or inaccurate information
  • Talk openly about the harm of stigma
  • View people directly impacted by stigma as people first
  • Be conscious of your language
  • Acknowledge access & language barriers  
  • Check your own stigmas and biases
  • Support community with where to access credible information
  • Be transparent about COVID-19
  • Stick to the facts
Countering Stigma For Communicators and Public Officials

Communicators and public health officials can help counter stigma during the COVID-19 response.

  • Maintain privacy and confidentiality of those seeking healthcare and those who may be part of any contact investigation.
  • Quickly communicate the risk or lack of risk from associations with products, people, and places.
  • Raise awareness about COVID-19 without increasing fear.
  • Share accurate information about how the virus spreads.
  • Speak out against negative behaviors, including negative statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities.
  • Be cautious about the images that are shared. Make sure they do not reinforce stereotypes.
  • Engage with stigmatized groups in person and through media channels including news media and social media.
  • Thank healthcare workers and responders. People who have traveled to areas where the COVID-19 outbreak is happening to help have performed a valuable service to everyone by helping make sure this disease does not spread further.
  • Share the need for social support for people who have returned from China or are worried about friends or relatives in the affected region.
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