We need to shift the COVID-19 messaging beyond protecting ‘old people’ and encourage kindness

Our behaviour change messaging in response to COVID-19 needs to be focused not just on older people, but all vulnerable people, Katy Denis argues.

Controversial, but unlike many PRs and the general public, I’m not slagging off ScoMo and Gladys on social for their comms efforts. I will admit and agree that some of the messaging has been confusing and inconsistent, but these are most certainly “unprecedented times” so I’m embracing compassion.

I’d urge anyone to stand up in front of the country after minimal to no sleep for days on end, under immense pressure, and compose themselves well enough to deliver coherent messaging on a crisis we have never, ever experienced before.

Katy Denis pictured with her parents, before her dad’s passing last year

All of that said, I do think we need to change part of the narrative around COVID-19. Constantly in the news, I am hearing that the coronavirus is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people and the elderly, with the focus on the elderly.

Let’s just look at this for a moment.

In this case, elderly people are 60+-years-old. I don’t know about you, but, generally, I wouldn’t say a 60-year-old is elderly. In the COVID-19 world that we live, however, 60 is considered elderly and at risk.

The issue I see here is that many young people in their 20s and even 30s can’t relate to being elderly. Most of their parents are in their 40s and 50s. It is so far removed from their daily life that they just don’t care about the older age group, even though one day they will all be there. This is one of the reasons I believe behaviours are not changing among many in the younger demographic.

And vulnerable people are not just those among us who are older. Vulnerable people are those whose immune systems are down, like the neighbour who has chronic asthma, the friend who has just been through chemo, or the cousin who is pregnant.

We need this messaging to change the perceptions and behaviours of younger people.

My Mum is 79. My dear Dad passed away last year, but would have turned 100 this year.

So I know our older people should be protected. But they are not the only ones at risk, despite the majority of the messaging.

I strongly believe that more young people will stay at home if the narrative around ‘vulnerable’ people is shifted slightly.

More than ever right now, it’s positive stories that will help get us through. With older people in mind, one of the beautiful things I am seeing and hearing during this time is a lot more kindness. Everything from phone calls and check ins, to offers to do grocery shopping and leaving flowers at doorsteps.

All of this is wonderful and among the things to be grateful for during this awful time.

Pessimists might say that it’s a shame it took a pandemic for people to think beyond themselves and their families to others who may be in need. But as with most things in my life, I choose a glass half full approach.

I do so hope, however, that this mindset of kindness and generosity (of time and resources) lasts well beyond flattening the curve.

Let’s embrace the kindness pandemic.

Katy Denis is the CEO of Extollo


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