We are now 7 months into a global, national and for many a very personal pandemic that has disrupted everything in our lives. Could we have been better prepared from a behavioral health aspect? Certainly daily posts on social media demonstrate the decompensation of some over restrictions, mandates or just plain restriction frustrations. But could we have known what drives pandemic behaviors?
On May 11, NBC was the first U.S. organization to host a web session with Dr. Steven Taylor, Phd. Author of “The Psychology of Pandemics” which was published in October of 2019. Although his publication may now seem prophetic, he is a renowned expert in anxiety and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vancouver, British Columbia. As an anxiety expert he became interested in pandemics after reading accounts of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and noticing how anxiety behaviors influenced and complicated the pandemic. Looking forward at other pandemics including Hong Kong flu, Avian Flu, SARS, MERS, all created similar psychological responses. The ability to influence behaviors from local to national levels reflected the course of the pandemic as much as the virus. At this point at least in the United States, we can agree that we have lost the pre pandemic opportunities to influence anxiety and behaviors successfully to gain an advantage over the spread and impact of the virus. As Dr. Taylor wrote, the psychological footprint will be larger than the medical footprint of the pandemic. Let that sink in for a moment. Second, behavior drives infection rate. We have certainly seen that. Third, beliefs drive health related behaviors. Again, we are seeing the results in real time. What NBC members found most interesting was Dr. Taylor’s concern for the larger coming pandemic, the post pandemic psychological pandemic. Dr. Taylor spoke of long term neuropsychiatric impacts of persistent chronic fatigue, anosmia, post traumatic stress reactions, significant depression and anxiety. The post pandemic psychological impacts are exacerbated by the economic impacts. Dr. Taylor, recommended now is the time to create, provide and engage in proactive behavioral health approaches. These can include digital tools for self assessment and supportive education, creative virtual or other safe gatherings for support and preparation for increased service demand for substance use treatment, post traumatic stress crisis management, domestic and family dysfunction interventions and social support.
The first 7 months of this pandemic may have been mismanaged from several directions, but the opportunity to provide current behavioral supports is here today. What we can do today will have a positive impact on the size of the post pandemic psychological footprint. Time to get to work!
To view the full web session with Dr. Taylor, follow this link: https://www.nbcgroup.org/the-psychology-of-pandemics/. “The Psychology of Pandemics; Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease” by Dr. Steven Taylor is available on Amazon in both hardcover and kindle formats.