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U of R’s Gord Asmundson study reveals stigmatization of healthcare workers during pandemic

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 28, 2020 10:00 a.m.

It’s not all hero worship: U of R’s Gord Asmundson study reveals stigmatization of healthcare workers during pandemic
It’s not all hero worship: U of R’s Gord Asmundson study reveals stigmatization of healthcare workers during pandemic Photo: iStock

Even while our newsfeeds are full of photos showing communities celebrating their healthcare workers as local heroes for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research reveals that widespread stigmatizing attitudes toward healthcare workers since the pandemic began.

While some cheer, others are uncomfortable with the freedom of movement of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: iStock

A study published this week by Dr. Gordon Asmundson, University of Regina psychology professor and a registered doctoral psychologist, highlights that reactions of fear and avoidance of healthcare workers are concerning and under-recognized problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Asmundson and Dr. Steven Taylor from the University of British Columbia surveyed more than 3,500 non-healthcare workers from the United States and Canada. The questions in the survey included measures of individuals’ attitudes toward healthcare workers, COVID Stress Syndrome, and avoidance. They found more than one quarter of respondents believed that healthcare workers should have severe restrictions placed on their freedoms – including being kept in isolation from their communities and their families. More than one third of respondents indicated that they avoid healthcare workers in public and in their daily lives, fearing they will become infected with COVID-19.

“Our findings are important in showing that while people are cheering the efforts of their local healthcare workers from the safety of their homes, many are also fearful that they may be a source of contagion within the community,” says Asmundson. “Public education is clearly needed to curb fear and stigmatization of this group of workers who are so important to our health and well-being.”

A study published this week by Dr. Gordon Asmundson, University of Regina psychology professor and a registered doctoral psychologist, highlights that reactions of fear and avoidance of healthcare workers are concerning and under-recognized problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: U of R Photography

This is not the first time that healthcare workers have been viewed negatively by members of their own communities. During past disease outbreaks (such as SARS), some people avoided contact with healthcare workers, fearing that they were a source of infection. This, however, is the first systematic evaluation of healthcare worker stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals who have developed a negative perception of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may also be experiencing COVID Stress Syndrome. Another Asmundson/Taylor study undertaken earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, found that the people who stigmatized healthcare workers also tended to avoid other people, avoid drug stores and supermarkets, and avoid leaving their homes.

“This is an incredibly important, timely study that has given us insight on the current perceptions some within our communities have of healthcare workers,” says Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research) at the U of R. “Dr. Asmundson and Dr. Taylor’s work is helping us to better understand the impact that COVID-19 can have on a person’s mental health.”

The study, Fear and Avoidance of Healthcare Workers: An Important, Under-Appreciated Problem During the COVID-19 Pandemic, was recently published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Read more about the study here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618520301031

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Coronaphobia.org: Wealth of mental health resources for public & health-care professionals

University of Regina psychologist receives federal funding for COVID-19 research