Kids with  Masks

How can we take care of our mental health during COVID-19

THE USE OF SOCIAL IDENTITY THEORY

HENRY WANG 

(Major content of this work has been submitted to the Institute of Education, University College London)

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic can be stressful for people across the world. According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause negative impacts on mental health among both adults and children”. On the other hand, some public health actions, such as social distancing, can increase stress and anxiety if we do not manage our emotions and attitude towards Covid-19 carefully (CDC, 2020). Therefore, it is essential to introduce the Social identity theory, which can be crucial to understand public responses to Covid-19 (Templeton et al., 2020), and therefore would benefit ourselves by producing positive responses to it (Cruwys et al., 2020).

Social identity theory illustrates how different social identities can alter one’s position and behaviours regarding their ingroup and outgroup. Social identity theory can enhance our cohesion during Covid-19. For example, a sense of shared identity may encourage ingroup members to consider other ingroup members as a source of social support and social approval (Bavel et al., 2020), enhancing one’s health and well-being (Hopkins & Reicher, 2016). Moreover, Alfadhli et al. (2019) proposed that under disasters such as Covid-19, people often develop new social relationships with strangers who used to be outgroup members but now share a similar situation. As a result, more people will follow the new identity-related social norms which are health-promoting in the new group (Templeton et al., 2020). Also, the new identity formed during Covid-19 can generate psychological support for the individuals and enhance the impact of perceived norms significantly (Bavel et al., 2020). For example, during the lock-down in Italy, people used social media to share posts of the balcony singing groups, which helped to boost community solidarity and the positive behaviour changes (Kenny, 2020). Additionally, focusing on these well-connected individuals and underlining their health-promoting behaviour changes can prompt others to follow their behaviours, which can postpone the virus transmission. More importantly, this can improve our mental health conditions as more psychological support is offered in the new shared collective identity. 

Accurate information about what the majority is doing must be presented to the group (Bavel et al., 2020). Especially if what most people are doing is health-promoting as it would encourage ingroup members to follow the health-promoting norms and to collectively self-regulate behaviours that may increase the opportunity of infection (Templeton et al., 2020). Similarly, Drury et al. (2015) proposed that when ingroup members perceive others are following the normative and health-promoting social norms, they may feel safe and therefore feel less stressed during the pandemic. However, complex social norms may demotivate people who have been already following health-promoting social norms (Bavel et al., 2020).

Although people thrive on gaining affiliation and social sources in the group, their judgements can be imprecise (Bavel et al., 2020), which may lead them to underestimate health-promoting behaviours. For instance, people who are reluctant to follow the social norms may prompt others to attend rallies and protests (Ferris et al., 2019). As a result, people who choose to attend protests may gather in proximity, which boosts the transmission of Covid-19.

It is reasonable to conclude that a new identity and social norms can be formed during Covid-19 to generate psychological support and to facilitate positive behaviour changes for the individuals to cope with Covid-19. And that our mental conditions can be enhanced by the application of social identity theory. Still, the collective norms should be normative and health-promoting, otherwise it may result in negative responses in the group (Hopkins & Reicher, 2016).

References:

Alfadhli, K., Güler, M., Cakal, H., & Drury, J. (2019). The Role of Emergent Shared Identity in Psychosocial Support among Refugees of Conflict in Developing Countries. International Review of Social Psychology, 32(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.5334/irsp.176


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Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). ‘Coping with stress’. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html


Cruwys, T., Greenaway, K. H., Ferris, L. J., Rathbone, J. A., Saeri, A. K., Williams, E., Parker, S. L., Chang, M. X.-L., Croft, N., Bingley, W., & Grace, L. (2020). When trust goes wrong: A social identity model of risk taking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1–90. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000243


Cruwys, T., Stevens, M., & Greenaway, K. H. (2020). A social identity perspective on COVID-19: Health risk is affected by shared group membership. British Journal of Social Psychology, 59(3), 584–593. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12391


Hopkins, N., & Reicher, S. (2016). The psychology of health and well-being in mass gatherings: A review and a research agenda. Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health, 6(2), 49–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jegh.2015.06.001


Kenny, S. (2020). Covid-19 and community development. 55(4), 699–703. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdj/bsaa020


Templeton, A., Guven, S. T., Hoerst, C., Vestergren, S., Davidson, L., Ballentyne, S., Madsen, H., & Choudhury, S. (2020). Inequalities and identity processes in crises: Recommendations for facilitating safe response to the COVID‐19 pandemic. British Journal of Social Psychology, 59(3), 674–685. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12400