Providing a safe, thriving environment for students to learn and staff to work in is the foremost goal of any school setting. But, creating a safe environment that facilitates learning can be a challenging task. School administrators and emergency managers must work together to create a healthy school climate, effective intervention, and crisis plans that prepare staff and students for emergencies. Unfortunately, many schools focus so much on the physical prevention process such as upgrading equipment, creating task forces, and establishing hotlines and phone trees, that they forget that they must also take mental health into consideration. That means social stigma and bullying-related prevention.
When something like the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus happens, these types of events are extreme stressors for students. Fear and anxiety about diseases can lead to social stigma towards people, places, or things. In this instance, stigma is the discrimination against a person based on social characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society. Unfortunately, one of the most common ways people manifest their social stigmas is through various iterations of bullying, including cyberbullying. That is especially true for children.
According to the CDC, “stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.”
Bullying and social stigma can have a negative effect on everyone - those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. They have adverse outcomes, including an impact on mental health, substance abuse, and even suicide. And, in situations where entire communities are affected by an outbreak, these types of preventable stressors wouldn’t happen if schools have policies in place that prepared them for these conversations.
School staff can help prevent bullying by establishing and enforcing school rules and policies that clearly describe how students should treat each other. Consequences for violations of the rules should be clearly defined as well. Even though most schools across the country are not hosting classes on campus right now, many have implemented eLearning and should still enforce anti-bullying policies. Cyberbullying is just as harmful as in-person bullying.
Bullying and stigma are associated with a lack of knowledge about how an outbreak spreads, a need to blame someone, fears about disease and death, and gossip that spreads rumors and myths. Schools must work together in conjunction with their communities to create and implement an outbreak emergency plan that protects students.
Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem. People can fight stigma and help, not hurt, others by providing social and emotional support. Counter stigma by learning and sharing facts. Communicating the fact that the virus does not target specific racial or ethnic groups and how COVID-19 actually spreads can help stop the stigma.
Check out the key takeaways of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and how it's being used across the US to improve school risk policies!
You are welcome to take advantage of an extensive list of resources that Magnus Health has collected from our client schools to offer students and staff ways to cope with challenges that stem from the coronavirus pandemic. Wishing you and your students good health!