Time to Stop Stigmatising Illness

Imagine you’re someone that has just received a diagnosis of a certain physical or mental illness. Fear, anxiety and confusion runs through your mind as you try to get a grip on what’s going on. Now imagine being treated like an outcast, as if you’re a criminal. Your crime? The illness. People you thought would be by your side have shunned you. They’ve labelled you. For them, you are the illness.

Not a great feeling, is it? For you and I, this was a hypothetical situation that may have made us uncomfortable for a few minutes. For millions out there, this is their everyday life.

Mental illness, AIDS, Leprosy, just to name a few and now the new Covid-19, have been creating a divide between the healthy and the unhealthy. Classic cases of stigma.

According to the World Health Organization, stigma can be defined as a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against and excluded from participating in a number of different areas in society.

Let’s analyse the stigma that surrounds the Coronavirus. Humans fear the unknown, and this virus has a lot that we know nothing about, thus creating a sense of panic and anxiety. As a result, we channelise this panic and anxiety in the most negative way possible. We associate the illness with different ethnicities, race and occupation. For us, they are the face of this pandemic.

These groups are not oblivious to the resentment that we start harbouring, which leads to people running away from hospitals, hiding their symptoms and travel histories, or in the worst case scenarios, violently attacking the healthcare professionals. Before you ask me why I’m defending them, believe me, I’m not. I strongly condemn such irresponsible behaviour, but I also strongly condemn the stigma that fuels it. This situation is just two sides of the same coin.

What can I do to fight stigma regarding any illness?

  • Monitor your language. The words we use may have a negative meaning for some people. This can pave the way for assumptions and stereotypes.
  • Share facts, not myths or rumours surrounding the illness. Educate yourself, and educate others.
  • Do your part in normalising the illness. I’ll scream this a thousand times if I have to but the illness does not define them!

Remember, showing a bit of humanity and empathy isn’t going to cost you anything. But if you don’t, the costs for the stigmatised groups are quite high.

Until next time,

Sneha

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