In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, COVID-19 survivors told stories about their experiences facing stigma after they recovered from the illness. The article asks if the “safeguards” we’ve created to protect ourselves against the coronavirus are simply turning into practices of fear and discrimination.
One elderly person featured in the story, who survived COVID-19, said he fell and called the fire department for assistance, but the department refused to come since it knew he’d been infected previously.
Another person featured is a pharmacy owner who said one of his young workers died of COVID-19, and he became sick shortly after. People began to spread rumors on social media that the owner also had coronavirus and boycotted his pharmacy.
The story soon turned to IUNI Advisory Council Member and IU Faculty Member Brea Perry (IUB Sociology).
Perry said she started to study stigma and discrimination around COVID-19 after President Trump called it the “Chinese Virus,” resulting in rising negative sentiments toward Asian Americans. Her team is also expanding the scope of its Person to Person Health Interview Study to examine the mental health consequences of the pandemic.
Stigma and shaming during uncertain times
Perry told the LA Times that the feelings which accompany a pandemic, such as fear, uncertainty, and danger, feed into the stigmas people create to feel some control.
“As humans, we try to manufacture a sense of control,” Perry said in the article. “We want to be able to attribute responsibility, because it’s really disorienting and stressful to think that, ‘Oh, just anything can happen to me … or I could get this too no matter what I do to try to control it.’
“But then it goes wrong when we turn it on other people in the form of stigma,” she said.
In another instance, the article said a church in Baton Rouge, La., refused to close despite statewide orders that prohibited gatherings of 10 people or more, and the community tried to pressure the church and its members to stop its large services. Perry said public pressure or shame tactics rarely solve a problem and, more often than not, make it worse.
“But really, what scientific research suggests is that overweight people who feel more shameful and perceive themselves as more stigmatized are actually less likely to make behavioral changes,” Perry said.
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