How do you convince stubborn friends and relatives to take COVID-19 seriously?

How do you convince stubborn friends and relatives to take COVID-19 seriously?

Maybe you’re washing your hands regularly, staying home, wearing a mask and staying 6 feet away from people when you need to go out, just like all the experts have advised to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But those friends or relatives who refuse to take the outbreak seriously or wear a mask can be frustrating or even enraging, especially if they’re spreading bad information online.

“People are less likely to take something seriously when they depersonalize it,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health therapy at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, WI. “If they think it can’t happen to them or they’re not part of the “vulnerable” population they’re more likely to disregard warnings or suggestions to stay safe.”

How do you change their minds? It might feel like you should lash out on Facebook. But that might not work.

“People are less likely to listen when they’re aggressively told what to do,” Dr. Barakat says. “You increase the likelihood of people being more receptive by being pleasant in your approach. Don’t share statistics and instead share specific stories. Communicate how the entire community depends on everyone working together. Don’t overload someone with a barrage of articles. Be selective to stories that relate specifically to that person’s situation. Don’t get into big debates attempting to change the person’s world view.”

If you want to encourage someone to get their information from only the most credible sources, you can find some of those here. And the graphic below might be helpful to show the need for social distancing.


Of course, Dr. Barakat says, in the end, you can only do so much.

“All we can do is take action that increases the likelihood that the person will begin to take it seriously and not do the opposite,” he says.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. Engaging someone with a hostile attitude will not make them want to listen.

  2. What evidence do you have that people aren’t taking it seriously?

    • Christopher David Tavolacci August 12, 2021 at 2:45 pm · Reply

      Heidi, respectfully, research the polio epidemic and Jonas Salk’s miracle vaccine. The only factor that has changed is Global social media. I do believe most are taking it seriously and making the best decision for themselves. We have to consider, though, we don’t live in a vacuum. If I sneeze near you, you are at risk of getting what I have, unless, it’s allergies. Take care.

      • Hi Christopher, just wondering if you could answer Heidi’s question. I’d be interested in your evidence too, regarding the current situation.

  3. I have a friend who carries with her a supply of disposable masks. When she encounters someone not wearing a mask, she asks if they need one. If the answer is anything like, “My mask is in the car” or “I don’t think I should be forced to wear one,” my friend counters by (truthfully) saying, “I have a 92 year-old mother in a nursing home. I wear my mask for her. Could we just wear our masks for our mothers?”

  4. Mark, I’m glad your friend wears a mask when visiting her 92 year old mother but I have no need to wear a mask since I am not visiting her mother. I expect your friend wears a mask while driving alone in her care which increases the odds she will never see 92.

  5. I see a large part of the problem is an attitude, that some, feel no need to take precautions because it isn’t affecting them personally. There seems to be not a lot or concern for others they come across and who they may carry it to. Which is how this virus just keeps turning its ugly head with new surges. Vaccinated, your decision, although my heart wishes everyone would be, but the other precautions are easy and truly effortless. Maybe the difference from years ago and outbreaks of disease the human race had more heart for family, friends, neighbors and even strangers. I’ve often said this became a political issue, but its more of a selfish one.

  6. I think one of the big problems, besides politics getting involved, is that with the situation being so fluid and information changing constantly, there is major trust problem. People are looking for that go-to source for accurate information/direction and it just doesn’t exist anymore.

About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.