Social stigma and COVID-19

Preventing and addressing the social stigma associated with COVID-19

Social Stigma is discrimination against a particular group of people, a place, or a nation in the form of a negative attitude. Public health emergencies (such as COVID-19 pandemic) are stressful situations for people and communities. Fear and anxiety with a lack of knowledge about the disease can lead to social stigma.

The stigma associated with COVID -19 is perceived because of the following factors–

  • It is a new disease for which lots of things are unknown.
  • People are often afraid of the unknown.
  • There is confusion, anxiety, and fear among the public leading to a negative attitude.

Consequences of stigma:

Stigma can interfere with social coherence contributing to situations which might favour the spread of the disease. Discriminatory behaviours can negatively affect those with the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends and communities. People who don’t have the disease but share other characteristics with this group may also suffer from stigma.

Social stigma can: 

  • prevent people from seeking health care immediately, that can lead to disease spread among the population;
  • drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination;
  • discourage people from adopting healthy behaviours;
  • demotivate frontline personnel from carrying out responsibilities;
  • hurt people by creating more fear or anger instead of focusing on the disease that is causing the problem.

Groups who experience stigma may also experience discrimination. This discrimination can take the form of:

  • other people avoiding or rejecting them;
  • a problem in getting healthcare, education, housing, or employment;
  • verbal abuse; or
  • physical violence.

Some suggestions to prevent social stigma:

It is essential to address the social stigma associated with COVID-19 as it can hamper the response efforts. Everyone can help stop stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with others in their community.

Share only the authentic information available on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India ( or the World Health Organisation (WHO). Cross-check any information related to COVID-19 from reliable sources before forwarding any messages on social media.

The way we communicate can affect the attitudes of others hence choose words carefully like-

DO - talk about the new coronavirus disease with the official name- COVID-19. But DO NOT use terms such as 'Wuhan virus/ Chinese virus.

DO - talk about patients as ‘people who have COVID-19’, ‘people who are recovering from COVID-19’. DO NOT refer people with the disease as 'COVID-19 cases or victims.

DO – talk like people acquiring or contracting COVID-19, NOT people infecting or spreading the infection to avoid further stigma.

An “infodemic” of misinformation and rumours spreading very quickly than the current outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) can lead to negative effects including stigmatization and discrimination of people from areas affected by the outbreak. Correct misconceptions about the disease and talk positively.

Share positive stories of those who have recovered from COVID-19.

Appreciate efforts of people providing essential services and be supportive of them and their families.

We need to work together to promote the importance of preventive measures, early screening, testing and treatment and to help those who are most vulnerable by keeping them safe.



Mental Health in the times of COVID-19 Pandemic - Guidance for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings, A 11- Social Stigma with COVID-19 - Page 60, accessed from


  • PUBLISHED DATE : Sep 01, 2020
  • LAST UPDATED ON : Sep 01, 2020


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The content on this page has been supervised by the Nodal Officer, Project Director and Assistant Director (Medical) of Centre for Health Informatics. Relevant references are cited on each page.