Denial and the Pandemic
As COVID-19 has spread across the globe, we have been experiencing loss of trust in our politicians and institutions and an increased interest in pandemic related jokes and conspiracy theories.
Why is denial such a common reaction what is going on now in the world? It is somewhat understandable to ignore the ‘elephant in the living room’ and avoidance of reality is nothing new!
Denial During the Pandemic
As in many other facets of our lives, what was always there, including mental health issues has been worsened by the pandemic. Denial has long been an important part of our lives as a form of coping, but it has been taken to another level due to the pandemic.
One of the strategies for people to protect themselves from fear is denial. People tend to develop strategies that help defend themselves, their sense of safety, and security in moments where there are a lot of overwhelming feelings and life conditions that may seem unpalatable. That is why, as a dangerous source, some people reject the pandemic and say it is more of a hoax than a true risk and we do not need to take it seriously!
The use of denial as a tool for coping is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives us time to adapt to a situation in the short term. Yet, as it tends to adversely affect other individuals in the long run, so it can be dangerous in much the same way as denial around addiction.
Although COVID-19 has taken more than 1 million lives, some people will still say it is a fake pandemic and that the situation is no worse than regular flu! With so much knowledge available about the seriousness of the coronavirus and the need to obey precautions, some people still question the truth of the pandemic and refuse to acknowledge the undeniable facts and figures.
Denial and Rationalism
Not every disagreement is denial. In psychology, there is also a term called rationalism, which is a defence mechanism where people justify unacceptable thinking and behaviour.
It is possible to rationally disagree with policy choices that have been made during the pandemic and still acknowledge the pandemics existence.
Also, skepticism is not the same as denial but perhaps more about bottled anger/ignorance? Lockdown fatigue, for instance, is essentially different from ignoring the importance of the pandemic as the former denotes genuine ill health and the latter could be seen as pure arrogance.
Lockdown skepticism, for instance, is caused by genuine concerns about the relative costs and benefits. Many of the most strident opponents of lockdown, later have acknowledged the seriousness of the pandemic.
Stages of The Pandemic Denial
The denial can manifest in refusing to use sanitizers or ignoring social distancing. It could put yourself and others at risk. Other beliefs that may make people deny the pandemic:
- “The worst is over. Now is time to go to work and party.”
- “If it is not fully gone, I’m not concerned about getting it as I am fit! It’s other people who are going to get affected by the virus.”
- “If it never goes away from our lives and I do get it, it won’t be that bad. I am young and healthy. It’s only old people who die.”
- “Many people don’t have any symptoms, so even if I go to the hospital, the chances of me dying are low.”
We have all seen the threat of coronavirus is real so it’s wise to continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others safe.
We Must Take This Pandemic Seriously
It is important not to joke around and distrust the reality of the existence of the virus. There are a lot of people who disbelieve the governments and think that the coronavirus is a scam and an opportunity for governments to take control. We must not confuse denial with anger as we blatantly witness certain governmental figures steal money that is supposed to be for PPE for example!
But looking at the data worldwide and the increasing number of cases and the mortalities, it is important not to joke about something that can kill and has changed our lives dramatically. It would be wise to be aware of your own and other people’s denial and face the reality of what is really happening around the world. Called it an overreaction or an underreaction, either way, this is a profoundly serious long-term problem that is not going away any time soon.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process