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Thursday, November 19, 2020 | 2:00 p.m. | Windsor-Essex County

COVID-related stigma can lead to harmful behaviours, such as bullying and cyberbullying. These actions have a negative impact on individuals, as well as hinder the ability to stop the spread of the virus. In light of Bullying Awareness Week, which runs from November 15 to the 21, the Windsor Essex County Health Unit is highlighting the affects bullying and cyberbullying can have on our community.

Stigma is a negative attitude or discrimination towards a person due to a characteristic. Over the past few months, the WECHU has become increasingly concerned due to reports of stigma towards people or a person related to COVID-19. Stigma often stems from a lack of knowledge, feeling the need to place blame, or out of fear. Stigma can lead to people hiding symptoms, or avoiding testing out of fear of what may be said to them or about them. Bullying, or cyberbullying, can be a common outcome from stigma. Recently, instances of cyberbullying have been documented among all age groups and across various social media platforms and is particularly concerning among youth.

Cyberbullying can include sending mean or threatening emails, messages, images, or texts. These messages may be sent to the individual themselves, or circulate among peers. Related to COVID-19, there can be online gossip about potential cases, threats around disclosing information about close contacts, and even threats made to victims for being ill. Cyberbullying can be inescapable, as it can occur at all hours of the day through a variety of social media platforms.

Online bullying can have serious impacts. People who are cyberbullied often feel an intense sense of isolation, fear, loneliness, and despair – feelings which may be heightened due to the pandemic. Cyberbullying can significantly affect individuals’ mental health, which in the most severe cases, have led to acts of self-harm and even suicide.

“Some people and especially youth may not know the potential consequences of online bullying. Depending on the content of the message or image, criminal and legal action can be taken. For example, threats or violence against another person can be categorized as assault or criminal harassment,” says Dr. Wajid Ahmed, Medical Officer of Health. “This week we want to draw attention to this topic, in the hopes that our community continues to practice kindness and support beyond these seven days.”

Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children about acceptable behaviour both on and off-line, and explain the possible consequences of breaking these rules. Children should be encouraged to tell an adult about any cyberbullying they witness.

Dr. Ahmed also stressed that the staff at the health unit continue to conduct thorough contact tracing for positive cases. “Members of the community do not need to try to investigate these things on their own. Individuals who are sick, regardless of their age, should have their privacy respected and not have to worry about being talked about or bullied – online or otherwise. As schools work hard to keep our children safe, we want our community to be supportive of one another, and avoid these behaviours.”


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