Last Friday’s Late Late Show included a segment devoted to the coronavirus outbreak. While I found elements of it informative it felt to me it was more an exercise in trying to calm people’s fears at the expense of a true analysis of the threat posed by the virus. The problem with such an approach is that people generally see through such tactics and instead of being reassured their anxiety increases.
Dr Harry Barry who has written numerous books in the area of mental health was right on cue urging people to “stay calm and get on with living your lives”. When I hear a comment like this I smell a rat. Essentially such an approach dismisses a person’s anxieties. If someone is so anxious about going out socialising, going to the cinema, etc. what is the point in doing it? The very purpose of doing these things is defeated.
Dr Barry also dismissed panic-buying and the wearing of face masks. If I go to the shop and stock up on extra loo roll and pasta, my anxiety may decrease. Whether this is a very practical step to take, is largely irrelevant. It may calm me and that is what matters. Also if wearing a face mask reduces my anxieties, the fact that some “expert” says there is no benefit to it, then that is what I will do.
I am not trying to raise people’s fears. There is no more guaranteed way of doing this than by being economical with the facts. On Channel 4 news on Friday night last Richard Hatchett, the doctor leading efforts to find a vaccine for coronavirus said: “This is the most frightening disease I’ve ever encountered in my career.”
Each person need to approach this crisis — and that is what it is — in a way that they are most comfortable with. At the end of the day each of us lives our lives, or at least we should, in a way that gives us most satisfaction and we deal with our anxieties in our own bespoke ways.
This readers' opinion will be published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on March 11, 2020.