Stigma and Discrimination

Inclusion, Not Discrimination


11 May 2020  |   4 min read

In Singapore, we are currently receiving daily reports from the Government on the number of COVID-19 infections in the community. The high number of people contracting the virus has caused much fear and anxiety that the situation is getting worse. However, we are also receiving information on COVID-19 through unofficial platforms like word of mouth and social media. These sources of information are not always reliable or accurate. Misinformation from fake news has not only heightened anxieties but at times instigated panic reactions and discriminatory behaviours.

This article seeks to shed light on how discriminatory behaviours can occur during the COVID-19 period and what individuals can do about it.

What is discrimination and how does it occur?

Discrimination is the treatment of someone less favourably than another because of a specific characteristic, e.g. Race, nationality, type of job, socio-economic status, etc. It is often based on negative attitudes, stereotypes or biases about certain people or groups. Discrimination can come in many forms. They include direct acts of aggression, exclusion of the person or group, withholding of benefits and imposing additional burdens without justifiable reasons. Discrimination can also be more subtle in the form of micro-aggressions, such as conveying “concerns”, avoiding the person in question and talking about them behind their back.

Because they are expecting discrimination, they may go out of their way to avoid others and withdraw from usual activities.

On the other hand, self-discrimination is when individuals exhibit the above-mentioned behaviours towards themselves. Persons who have been quarantined, for example, may continue to isolate themselves as they perceive themselves to be a health threat to others.

Persons who are self-stigmatising or targets of discrimination may feel anger, sadness, guilt and embarrassment. They may resent the unjust treatment. Because they are expecting discrimination, they may go out of their way to avoid others and withdraw from usual activities.

Which groups of people may experience discrimination and require more support during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Persons who have been quarantined
  • Persons in contact with a confirmed or suspect case
  • Persons with existing physical health conditions as they may be mistaken to be infected with COVID-19
  • Frontline workers in healthcare and other service industries
  • Migrant Workers
  • Mainland Chinese nationals who are residing or working in Singapore, due to the origin of the virus in Wuhan, China.

Such persons may experience higher levels of stress and psychological distress. They may also self- discriminate or self-stigmatise.

How can I support someone who has been discriminated against?

  • Do be mindful of what is going on in your environment.
  • Do be helpful and speak up, point out, or intervene if discriminatory behaviours are observed.
  • Do be supportive and reach out to persons who may be experiencing distress due to discrimination. Your concern will be very welcome in this time of stress and anxiety.
  • Do be sensitive of what you say. During this time of stress and uncertainty, innocuous comments may be easily misconstrued and result in misunderstandings.

I feel that I am self-discriminating or being discriminated against. Where can I get help?

First of all, seek to reduce the sense of anger or embarrassment you may be experiencing. Make a note of what happened and report this to the police if you are in immediate danger. Seek support from trusted friends and family members. Share your feelings and perspective on the matter.

If at work, share your concerns with your immediate supervisor and helpful colleagues. If you have questions about policies or concerns about discrimination in the workplace, the HR department is a good place to seek advice. If you are experiencing significant distress, do seek professional help for your concerns. Your GP or neighbourhood polyclinic will be in a position to help. Further support can be obtained through social service agencies offering counselling and psychotherapy. For more information, please write to: or call the National Care Hotline at 1-800-202-6868.

The contributor is a Programme Manager at the Agency for Integrated Care.