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4 Tips for avoiding the stigma of testing positive for COVID among multi-family living

4 Tips for avoiding the stigma of testing positive for COVID among multi-family living                          


After more than five months of being bullied by the impact of Coronavirus, thoughts of optimism is being threatened by COVID 19. Our lives are flooded with conflicting news about the virus from rising numbers in positive testing to determining the best way to prevent from being infected. Depending on one’s political beliefs or personal experiences can determine how he or she views the virus, which could influence the steps taken to cope with the virus. Not to mention the inadequate solutions from our government and health professionals regarding protection from the virus that vary from state to state. Some states allow open dining while other states prohibit dining in public. Mask or no mask, six feet of social distancing but seated shoulder to shoulder on a plane, seniors are most vulnerable to everyone being at risk. With so much information about rising numbers from testing, deaths, and scrutinized solutions for protection, there is tremendous uncertainty about how to manage our lives during this pandemic. However, I have experienced something more dangerous than the virus itself and that is the stigma of testing positive with COVID.

Many of us are well aware of the impact stereotypes and labels have on individuals and the results are painfully crippling. Many of us have a sense of community, which creates value and a communal desire to belong and be accepted. In some religious communities, wearing a mask is a sign of fear and not faith, which can cause an individual to feel ostracized from the community for wearing a mask. There are times when not wearing a mask can cause one to be labeled as insensitive or defiant. A positive COVID test threatens that belief of belonging as well as the ability to be optimistic and hopeful. I have observed as well as experienced the judgement that follows testing positive with COVID. This is mostly apparent among families when members living together test positive.  Among African American communities, the experience of being underrepresented as well as dealing with racial disparities influence the negative connotation that comes with being stereotyped or labeled.  As an African American, I have to acknowledge what I believe and feel about myself on a daily basis. I am affirmed by what I know and believe about myself and not by what my test results revealed. Also, my faith has affirmed me to believe that God is in control and God has a purpose for COVID.  For many, this may not be the case. A positive COVID test could mean being quarantined, which results in a loss in wages. This threatens the belief of being a good provider for the family. A friend tested positive with COVID and was afraid to inform the family for fear of being seen as a monster. For many, testing positive means a loss of identity and value, which can influence self-isolation, hopelessness, and fear.

As I stated earlier, uncertainty and unreasonable solutions can be a motivator for fear; therefore, causing some individuals to be far more dangerous to themselves and others than the virus itself. Fear of being labeled can prevent individuals from taking the test if symptoms persist. Testing positive may cause an individual to self-isolate or keep the results from others not only for feeling responsible for infecting the family, but from fear of being labeled and quarantined from the family. This can be devastating on an individual and may cause him or her to experience tremendous anxiety, depression, or even thoughts of suicide. The fear of not being accepted can be more painful than being diagnosed with COVID but, it is important to note, being diagnosed with COVID is not necessary a death sentence. In fact, more than 5 million people have tested positive in the U.S. but less than 1% have died. However, suicide hotlines have overwhelmingly increased since COVID. Fear has a paralyzing effect on many of us and I believe some have died from fear contracting COVID, fear of being alone in the hospital, and fear of never seeing family again. Regardless of race or cultural beliefs, one thing is for certain in the midst of uncertainty, many are afraid of testing positive with COVID but, fear can also motivate conversation.

 Here are some tips on managing stress among family when testing positive:

Talk with the family about fears of COVID before a member tests positive

Anything you can talk about you can manage. Explain one another’s fears and concerns and offer validation for those fears and concerns. This is an opportunity for families to strengthen their bond between one another and discover how much they value and need one another.

Pray together

Enough said. “A family that prays together, stays together.”

Offer support and encouragement

If a member tests positive, avoid labeling or developing stereotypical conversations especially directing blame. Get informed about the virus because opinions are usually formed from fear. Avoid feelings of judgment and ridiculing others that test positive as well as for practicing social distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask. Share your empathy and value for your family and their safety. Develop strategies for a member that tests positive, designate a bedroom and a bathroom for the member that tested positive.

Validate the member that tested positive

Finally, offer as much support to the member that tested positive by writing (sanitized of course) letters to them, singing songs outside the bedroom, and reaffirm them every step during their quarantine. Let them know how much you love them, believe in them, reassure them they should not feel guilty and they are definitely, not alone.

Reginald Rogers, AMFT

For more help with getting the support you need during the pandemic, contact me.

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