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Part 3: Our Mental Health & the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: Tackle the stigma

15th March 2021

People with mental health problems often experience stigma and discrimination which can negatively influence self-esteem, relationships and social opportunities. Stigma and discrimination can also prevent people from seeking support, thus increasing the risk of more complex, long-term mental illnesses developing, crisis situations occurring, and recovery being hindered. Stigma related to physical health problems can also have a negative impact.

Stigma and discrimination affect many people across our communities and are associated with a number of different health related conditions. Sadly, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become one of these.

The experience of stigma and discrimination can be considered a significant risk factor for developing a mental health problem and / or worsening the mental state or quality of life of a person experiencing a mental illness. We all have physical and mental health, and we need to break down any stigma associated with these. This is particularly important at the present time because we have to act to prevent the mental health challenges that the current circumstances present.

It’s vital that we act to protect all people across our communities. When it comes to addressing health-related stigma, we should aim to:

  • Think about the language we choose to use

Mental health is a state of wellbeing. Mental ill health reflects a deterioration in our mental health. Often people talk about ‘mental health’ when they are referring to mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. If we’re talking about a state of wellbeing, this is ‘mental health’, if we’re talking about a mental health problem or illness, this is ‘mental ill health’.

COVID-19 has, and is, affecting people across the globe. This is not attached to any particular social demographic, ethnicity, nationality or geography. People who have COVID-19, are people who ‘have’ it. They’re not ‘the diseased,’ ‘the victims,’ ‘the cases,’ or ‘the families.’ People who have had COVID-19 and who are recovering or well, are people who have ‘had’ it. Don’t identify people as ‘COVID-19’; separate the person from the disease.

  • Protect ourselves and address misconceptions or rumours

If you find the news distressing, limit the time you expose yourself to this, and only seek information to prepare plans and take action to protect yourself and loved ones. If you choose to share information, be sure that it is trusted and reliable. Avoid sharing anything in person, or on social media, that has not come from an official source.

  • Be supportive to others

In these unprecedented times, it’s important for us to remember that whilst we are all facing the same uncertainty, individual experiences of this will be different. We will all face our own pressures and challenges. People’s emotional responses are unique and practising empathy can be helpful. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone else’s perspective, it means accepting that their point of view can be different. Listening to understand rather than listening to respond can help us do this. It’s really important to show compassion and kindness and receiving or sharing stories of hope, positivity and recovery can be a great source of support and comfort.

As part of any public health strategy to address COVID-19, it is essential for us to consider our mental health an integral part of this. There’s much that can be done, and we all have a role to play.