Our volunteer Jade looks at her own perspective of labels.
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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about several terms, labels and buzzwords which were not as common beforehand. For example, words such as ‘vulnerable’, ‘key worker’ and ‘self-isolation’ have become part of our everyday vocabulary. It is interesting to consider how such terms may affect different people – how they think of themselves, and how this impacts their mental health.

Theory
Labelling theory suggests that labelling an individual can be problematic as it can to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The negative stigma around a label can cause an individual who is then labelled as that to stigmatise themselves – this then reduces an individual’s self-esteem and self-concept (how they think and see themselves). In the same way, if a label is viewed as positive, the individual who is then labelled as that may feel increased self-esteem and self-concept. It is therefore important when looking at the effect of these labels to determine whether the label is negative or positive.

My experience with labels during the pandemic

In my own experience, being labelled a ‘key worker’ has had both positive and negative affects on my thoughts and feelings. Mostly, this is viewed as a positive label by the wider population, as people have become aware of what essential work constitutes. The public have become very reliant on key workers as a result of the pandemic. The term has positive connotations and gives a sense of pride in the job that one is doing. Additionally, being a key worker has benefits in that being required to work means that there is opportunity to get out of the house and experience a different environment. However, there are also negative affects in that key workers are often put in risky situations where they are much more exposed to the virus than people who are, for example, working from home. It can also be tedious feeling that the only social aspect of the day is going out to work. The label ‘key worker’ essentially suggests that you are vital to society. Although this may be true at this time, it can also cause people to put too much pressure on themselves and take on too much, which can cause stress, tiredness and could lead to illness.

Other labels and their affect
Labels such as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘isolation’ are more often viewed as negative. When considering the term ‘vulnerable’ it is important to think about how it is used as a blanket term for many different people with different issues. Having spoken to a few people that have been labelled as ‘vulnerable’, it seems that the term has made them feel more vulnerable in themselves than they realistically are. Similarly, the term ‘self-isolation’ has negative connotations as it signifies loneliness and estrangement from the real world. Therefore, it is interesting to consider how people who are self-isolating may feel more loneliness than those who are not. It has been proven that isolation has a significant impact on the onset of dementia, depression and anxiety. This is especially true for the older generation who are more likely to be considered high-risk. However, due to increased awareness of this, more interventions have been put into place as a result of the pandemic, and in turn an increase in people who are willing to help. However, some individuals who have been in a similar situation since before the pandemic feel frustrated that this is what it has taken for help to be received.

My overall opinion
I think that labelling causes a divide between people and can also have negative effects on the mental wellbeing of individuals, due to the stigma attached to some labels. Whilst it is sometimes necessary to put people into groups, such as high-risk or vulnerable, in order to protect people’s health, this can sometimes lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy with people feeling more vulnerable than they would without the label. However, there have been clear positives in that public awareness of the essential nature of certain industries, the severity of different health conditions, and the effects of isolation has increased and therefore interventions have been put into place to help. The pandemic has seen an increase in people wanting to volunteer and ‘do their bit’ for society and for the wellbeing of others. Overall, I would not say that labels help with mental health, but I would say that society is more conscious of issues (i.e. health conditions) as a result.