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 in public 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 in a story that will be updated regularly. 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?

  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?”

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.