Feelings of guilt, shame due to COVID-19 diagnosis are normal, experts say

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WESTFIELD, Ind. — When Michelle Baxter decided to talk publicly about her COVID-19 diagnosis, she hoped to help other people struggling with a new kind of stigma.

“I was wearing my mask, I was hardly around anyone without a mask and I got it,” Baxter said. “I wanted to share to people that anyone can really get this.”

Baxter started an Instagram page, Wandering Westfield, near the beginning of the pandemic to highlight things to do in her community. A poll she posted on that page, asking followers if they would like to know more about her experience with COVID-19, received overwhelming support.

“I laid it all out there and I shared everything, from my symptoms, to getting the test, (to) what it was like finding out I was positive,” Baxter said.

That included feelings of guilt, according to Baxter, who found out close contacts had also tested positive after interacting with her.

Those feelings of guilt, and potentially of shame or embarrassment, are normal, according to mental health experts. Data compiled by the state of Indiana shows that nearly one in 10 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19 since March.

“I think mental health in general has gotten worse as the pandemic has continued to go on,” said Dr. Hillary Blake, clinical psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children.

Blake said she tried to combat negative feelings toward a diagnosis by reminding patients that if a friend got the virus, they would likely be sympathetic.

“A big thing is validating those feelings, I think anyone would have that reaction if they tested positive,” Blake said.

Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor with Community Health Network, said that while negative feelings are normal, it’s important to pay attention to your overall mental health.

“If you believe that your signs and symptoms, reactions, emotions to this diagnosis (are) hindering you from being able to work or carry on your normal daily activities, please seek professional help,” Richardson said.

You can do that by visiting bewellindiana.com or by calling 211 to speak to a counselor.

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