Countering Stigmatization In The Humanitarian Response To COVID-19

Photo By: Mazyar Asadi is licensed under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

Countering Stigmatization In The Humanitarian Response To COVID-19

An InterAction Protection Working Group Report

In most contexts, the social stigma surrounding mental health issues exists because of cultural norms and a lack of understanding of mental health’s complexities and realities, resulting in isolation, increased vulnerability, and lack of support for people with mental health problems.

This stigma has been exacerbated during COVID-19, as more people may need mental health or psycho-social support but cannot access it due to the cessation of in-person services and limited remote care options.

COVID-19 has thus evolved into a global mental health crisis.

Stigma related to mental health and COVID-19 can exacerbate pre-existing conditions or lead to new mental health and psycho-social problems for individuals, families, and communities. Many humanitarian crises affect people who are traveling or who are displaced and already experiencing significant stigmatization from the host communities where they reside. Host communities have often accused displaced populations of bringing crime and disease, leaving them isolated and more vulnerable to mental health and psycho-social problems. This can exacerbate negative perceptions of—and violence against—those who have or are believed to carry the virus.

Those who do test positive and recover may experience challenges reintegrating with family, friends, and community, similar to what was experienced during the Ebola outbreaks. Despite testing negative or surviving COVID-19, people may remain isolated from their communities and cut off from the social connection that would allow them to better cope with the stressful and challenging situation. This also takes a toll on COVID-19 first responders and essential service providers, for whom community support is vital for mental well-being. First responders’ risk of exposure to the virus is comparatively high, thus putting them at an equally-high risk of social exclusion, isolation, and anxiety.

In recognition of World Mental Health Day, InterAction is proud to share a report that provides unique insight into the current challenges emerging from increased societal stigma around COVID-19.

As we commemorate Mental Health Day, please consider the invisible impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic—the silent struggle to cope with stress, trauma, and insecurity. As individuals, we can treat people with more kindness and compassion. As humanitarian actors, we can work to promote physical distancing AND social connectedness. Encouraging community cohesion—including engaging the most vulnerable in all services and information delivery—can be done while also taking necessary preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Please contact Anna Jaffe, InterAction’s Program Manager for Protection, if you have any comments or questions on the report. We welcome your feedback!

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