Exploring Human Potential

Afghanistan, Covid, the Delta Variant …and Fear Management as a Public Health Emergency.

Posted on | August 17, 2021 | 3 Comments

Mike Magee

In the past two decades, all manners of catastrophe have managed to land on our laps at the intersection of science, public policy, and information technology. Transparency and truth are the keys to unlocking lasting solutions. But in the meantime, there is a pressing need to manage fear.

The U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan this week has simply added fuel to the fire. People are scared. And when people are scared, they not only make bad decisions, but they also make themselves sick.

It wasn’t too long ago that I tackled this very issue. The source point for the fear was different then: 9/11. I was charged to study fear levels in New Yorkers 30 months after 9/11 and again 4 years after 9/11.

The first study of 1,000 New Yorkers , 30 months post 9/11, disclosed high fear levels, especially with respect to using mass transit, and high residual levels of mental illness. It also noted that, while citizens were more vigilant, they did not see themselves in a position to contribute to a response to color coded warnings. In short, they absorbed the fear, but had little outlet for a constructive response. Four years post-9/11, fears over terrorism remained prevalent among New York City residents.

The suffering from mental ailments persisted as well. Thirty-five percent reported personally suffering depression, anxiety, or mental illness as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Fifty-two percent of those originally affected said they were still suffering from mental ailments. Of those who personally suffered, women, Hispanics and African Americans were disproportionately affected.

Our citizens reaction to Covid, and now the Delta variant, mirrors these findings.

Here is what I believe needs to be done:

1. Fear Management must become a core responsibility of those involved in Covid disaster response.

2. A mental health professional with strong public health credentials should be an active team member on local, state, and national levels.

3. All Covid recovery plans should include short, medium and long-term plans to manage fear and its mental health fallout.

4. Covid disaster communication plans, both proactive and reactive, should be rigorously focus tested to assess mental health impacts.

5. A comprehensive national public/private multi-media communication program to address residual fear head on and reinforce social confidence and trust in vaccines should be developed and launched.

What we must now recognize is that current fear left unaddressed and reinforced by frequent warnings and Delta induced flashbacks will not go away. It will persist, especially in the most vulnerable, and eat away at the fabric of society, eroding public confidence and trust in science and health professionals.

President Biden is doing his part, but he cannot do it alone. We together absorbed the fear. Together we must now confront and rid ourselves of it.


3 Responses to “Afghanistan, Covid, the Delta Variant …and Fear Management as a Public Health Emergency.”

    August 18th, 2021 @ 12:50 pm

    As always, spot on. As usual, the message will not be appreciated or utilized by those in Washington who are currently responsible for health-related messaging. They deliberately undermined science and truth while Trump was in office, and they are just confusing everybody now that Biden is in charge. You cannot fight fear when you are sowing confusion. I find it hard to believe what a bad job they are doing.

  2. Mike Magee
    August 18th, 2021 @ 7:11 pm

    Wish you were there, Art.

  3. Lawrence R Williams
    August 23rd, 2021 @ 3:19 pm

    As always Michael you have identified a problem affecting many people and provided reasonable information for a way to improve the situation and thus have a salubrious impact on the health of so many. But so long as fear mongering remains so politically and even financially beneficial to certain individuals in powerful positions who can influence the hearts and minds of millions the task is nearly impossible.

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