Health

Time to get over ‘COVID shame’


Maria Venetis has a Breakthrough case of COVID-19 right around New Year’s Eve. When she called her friends to cancel her plans, she found herself explaining too much about how and where she might have contracted the virus — until a friend cut her off.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Venetis, an associate professor of communications at Rutgers University, recalls his friend. In that moment, Venetis realized “there’s no reason for me to point out where I can get this.”

COVID-19 is such a contagious and widespread disease that feeling guilty about contracting it is, at this point, absurd. But even with experts predict that this virus will soon become endemic, the shame of getting it remains. Research and anecdotal report shows that many positive testers feel shame and guilt — perhaps because they regret for unintentionally revealing othersfeel like a failure for not doing enough to stop it, or experience online stigma.
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Liat Hamama, professor of social work at Tel Aviv University, recently study guilt and shame of more than 300 people in Israel who tested positive for COVID-19. She found that nearly 14% of study participants felt ashamed about their diagnosis, and about 16% felt guilty — not the majority, but a sizable minority. Those feelings seem to be more common in the U.S. At the end of 2020, when Johns Hopkins researchers surveyed about 1,500 Americans, about 25% said they would feel embarrassed if they catch COVID-19.

Those feelings have obvious consequences for mental health, but they can also be problematic from a public health standpoint. Johns Hopkins researchers link COVID-19 stigma to a person’s reluctance to seek medical care, get tested, and tell others who may have been exposed. Another studypublished in 2021, also found that COVID-19 shaming was associated with lower compliance with public health guidelines, such as notifying health officials and those involved. tight system.

Many health conditions, from sexually transmitted diseases arrive mental health disorder, carries a damaging stigma – but respiratory illnesses often don’t. “How often do people feel embarrassed about having the flu?” Joe Gieck, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

COVID-19 may be different as it has shaped nearly every aspect of our lives over the past two years. The disease – along with the measures used to prevent it – has also become strongly politicized, leading people to ascribe moral values ​​to what should be public health precautions. benign copper. For example, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated could be described as a moral responsibility or a violation of individual liberties, depending on one’s perspective. In that heightened emotional state, people are quick to call out those they perceive to be behaving badly, especially on social media.

“We have a mechanism in place that tries to be good citizens, but also boycotts the bad people,” said Venetis. Research has repeatedly shown that shame is not a good way to rapid behavior changebut people still do it.

Risk communication can also contribute to virus awareness. Guidance issued by public health agencies including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) generally focuses on the actions of individuals, from the “stay-at-home” days of the season. Spring 2020 is coming soon. advice on wearing protective masks like N95s.

“There has been a lot of focus on prevention and mitigation,” says Gieck. When someone follows all of the “right” steps and still gets sick, “it can lead to feeling like you did something wrong.” Many people also fear COVID-19, and fear can exacerbate negative emotions when someone tests positive, Gieck said.

Read more: COVID-19 Seems To Be A Cure For Most Children, But Its Effects On Their Mental Health Are Deeper

Guilt and shame are closely related, but not identical. “ Guilt is, ‘I feel bad about what I did,’ and shame is, ‘I to be Sonya Norman, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. While guilt can at least push people to make more equitable decisions forward, shame is rarely effective, she says. Internalizing shame can be damaging to mental health and is associated with depression and low self-esteem. Shame is also linked to poor anger regulation and interpersonal problems, Hamama adds.


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Norman is conducting therapeutic interventions for people struggling with COVID-19-related shame based on her previous work treating US veterans. It guides people to realize why they feel embarrassed; address “later bias” or a tendency to judge past decisions based on current knowledge; and find strategies to release guilt and shame in the future. Norman is still researching the program and its effectiveness but says she has received promising feedback from patients.

Not everyone can or will find a therapist to do that kind of individual work, so it’s important to address COVID-19 shame on a societal level — especially when we prepare for a near future in which viruses are treated as an unhappy but constant part of life. “The way we talk about things makes all the difference,” says Venetis.

In personal relationships, Venetis says messages like the one she received from her friend after a positive result – that it’s okay and no one’s fault – can help normalize the diagnosis. In contrast, analyzing the totality of where someone is infected with COVID-19 is rarely helpful and may imply that the sick person has done something wrong.

Public health agencies like the CDC can use similar tactics. Jennifer Manganello, an expert in health communications at the University at Albany School of Public Health, says that the language used to describe COVID-19 is crucial. She says it’s better to talk about people “acquiring” or “contracting” COVID-19 than saying someone “transmitted” the virus or “infected” others, because that’s not to blame.

Manganello says it’s also important to provide people with helpful public health advice, emphasizing that some things are beyond their control. While individuals can and should take certain precautions, such as vaccinations and boosters, viruses continue to mutate and spread due to social factors such as Global vaccine inequality. “Individual actions are only part of the puzzle,” says Manganello.

Dr Scott Ratzan, the journal’s founding editor, says health communication can be most effective from sources people inherently trust, such as pediatricians and doctors community doctor. Health Communication: International Perspectives. The pandemic has caused an erosion of trust in the government and public health groups like CDCbut most people still trust the medical and health professionals they engage with, says Ratzan.

Those experts should use language to comfort those who test positive, Ratzan said, stressing that there is no shame in coming across a highly contagious, widely circulating virus. orchid. Social media is a useful tool for widely distributing constructive messages, he adds.

Over time, says Venetis, the way we talk and feel about COVID-19 will likely change on its own. The Omicron variant may have helped speed up this process, as it continues infect even people who have been vaccinated three times wearing a mask—Bringing home the message that being sick is not a moral breakdown, but an unavoidable fact of life as we know it today.



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