Showing compassion in a post COVID-19 WA

15 SEP 2020

Lifeline WA’s mission is to prevent suicide, support people in crisis and reduce the stigmas around mental health, which can be a barrier to people seeking help.

The onset of COVID-19 brought about a lot of confusion and uncertainty. This uncertainty and fear around the virus led to social stigma towards particular groups in our community. While we have learnt more about the virus and worked towards reducing those stigmas, as we move to a safer Western Australia, the stigmas are evolving, and we need to continue reducing them and show compassion.

In regards to health, social stigma is the negative association between someone who shares certain characteristics with a specific disease. This may mean people are stereotyped, discriminated against, or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with the disease.

Research has shown that social stigma is harmful as it can negatively affect those with the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends and communities, even those who don’t have the disease but share other characteristics with this group. Stigma can also undermine social cohesion and prompt social isolation of the affected groups.

As Western Australia experiences the winter cold and flu season, social stigma may extend to those who have picked up a cold. I have found myself letting people know I’m not sick when I sneeze or being hyper-aware of other people sniffing and coughing when I’m out in public. While it is always important to stay home and rest up while you are sick, or not catch up for a coffee with your friend who has picked up a cold, we need to keep in contact and make sure that no one feels isolated for feeling unwell.

How do we overcome social stigma?

I talked to Lifeline WA wellbeing coordinator and Telephone Crisis Support volunteer, Susie Biggin, about how to reduce stigma as her experiences in life, her role at Lifeline WA and volunteering have given her a lot of training and information on the issue. Here are the tips Susie shared.

Start with examining your own attitudes and behaviours about the subject and challenge yourself as to why you have these. Ask yourself why you hold these attitudes and if they are based on fact.

This will help you reflect and show you the things you may need to learn more about. Becoming more informed and educating yourself will give you more of an understanding and may help you feel more empathetic towards those impacted by the stigma.

Language matters. The way we speak to others and the words we choose are important. People may perceive what we say differently to the way we intend them to receive it. 

Stigma is compounded by hiding experiences, so having open conversations and talking to people about what you have learnt or experienced helps bring normalcy and inclusivity.

Lastly, Susie shared that we should remember to recognise that we were all multi-faceted people and one aspect does not make a complete person.

Compassion during COVID

This crisis has helped teach us how to have more compassion for others. We can look more empathetically at the needs of others and focus less on the needs of ourselves.

Susie has also shared some ways to show compassion in your community:

  • Do something kind for someone.
  • Listen to people and show interest when they are sharing a story with you.
  • Show you care when you can see that someone is hurting.
  • Be happy for someone and join in when they are experiencing joy.
  • Try not to judge others but accept them for who they are.
  • Place trust in others to allow us to open up and become more empathetic towards them.
  • Try to place yourself in their shoes and walk with them instead of judging.
  • Believe that we all have strengths and recognise the strengths in others.
  • Respect and unconditional regard for others.

The lingering effects of attitudes about people who tested positive may be an enduring legacy of the worldwide pandemic. In an atmosphere of fear and confusion, stigma becomes a lasting stain on people associated with the illness. For this reason, we must continue to show compassion to others and work to reduce stigma.

If you or someone you new needs support, please call 13 11 14, anytime, to talk to one of Lifeline WA’s caring telephone crisis support volunteers

Written by Tehani Payton

Image Credit: Photo by Andre Ouellet on Unsplash