From fear of being judged by society, to financial reasons, some are afraid of sharing Covid-19 test results.
It is crucial for people to follow social distancing and quarantining guidelines once diagnosed with Covid-19, after all, these are measures which help combat the spread of this highly infectious virus.
However, many are becoming increasingly reluctant to share their Covid-19 test results with relatives or recent contacts.
So, what is the psychology behind hiding a positive diagnosis from others?
Professor Mehmet Sungur, a psychiatrist and former President of the European Association of Behaviour and Cognitive Psychotherapy, spoke to TRT World about why people tend to hide their diagnoses.
As the world passes through a crisis of this magnitude, he says, it is finding ways to cope with this invisible enemy.
Sungur says that first and foremost, it is someone’s basic right to limit information about their illnesses. However, in this case, it is not acceptable to conceal positive test results, especially when it can determine the lives of others.
The Psychological reasons why people hide a diagnosis
“Our lives are more about how we perceive what is happening to us than what happens to us,” says Sungur.
People can be triggered by a variety of emotions, such as anger, guilt, sadness, panic, confusion, and also embarrassment. According to the professor, these negative feelings prevent people from talking about their situation.
Another reason for hiding a positive Covid-19 result, is “the fear of being judged,” the professor says.
Sungur says a “just-world” hypothesis is behind the fear of being judged. In other words, if something happens to people, it comes from the perception that they deserved the things that happened to them.
People could judge themselves leading to self-criticism. “First the individual criticises himself and then he is afraid that the outside world will judge him,” the professor added.
Nur Soylu Yalcinkaya, an Assistant Professor at the Bogazici University Psychology department says, “we know that in general people worry about uncertainty and find strategies to deal with such threatening situations.”
She says that for example, “the fact that they show no symptoms may lead people to question the accuracy of the diagnosis. Expressing the diagnosis aloud and sharing it with others is a situation that increases anxiety as it makes the diagnosis ‘real’ and prevents pretending that there is no disease.”
In addition, she says people who are diagnosed with Covid-19 may experience fear that they will be excluded, labelled by their environment, and be ostracised long term, even after a full recovery.
“Considering that the tendency to hide illness is born out of anxiety, it becomes important to control anxiety,” adds Yalcinkaya.
Sungur says that things are not entirely in people’s control. “Even if we take every precaution, there is no guarantee that Covid-19 will not be transmitted a hundred percent.”
Loss of income, both for employers and employees, is another major reason why people might be keen to conceal the facts. In many manual labour jobs, people just do not have the opportunity to take sick leave.
On the other hand, some may entirely lose their employment should they contract the virus. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 30 percent of workers can work from home.
Especially in sectors where manual labour is required, people cannot take paid sick leave - this encourages people to ultimately hide their illness and, as a result, potentially drive up infection rates.
Which kinds of measures should be taken?
Sungur encourages the preparation of a set of guidelines which clearly explains to those diagnosed with Covid-19 what to do step by step.
He said it could start with “get well first, there are things you need to do to get your health back,” and continue with “if you are infected, don't panic. If there is anything worse than a virus, it’s panic. Therefore, this virus can infect us all. Infection of this virus is not something embarrassing, humiliating, devaluing for you.”
The authorities should also tell people how to behave towards coronavirus patients, not just send them into isolation.
Yalcinkaya says sharing developments about the coronavirus with the public at regular intervals, in a transparent, clear and understandable manner, is the strategy that will be the most effective in reducing anxiety.
“Frequently reminding people of the worst consequences of the disease and reinforcing fear may not create the expected consciousness effect,” says Yalcinkaya.
Sungur adds that people also need to play their part in how they treat others.
“Instead of being judged by the others, patients should be faced with compassion.”