2024 New Year Resolution #1: Don’t Forget About COVID-19 and the Invasion of Our Capitol

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With the upcoming election and the rising risk of COVID, here’s how we can avoid physical and psychological trauma.

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PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Often at the end of a calendar year, the media looks back at the prior year and forward to the new. Usually, highlights are picked out for their relevance. Individuals usually do the same for their own lives and often come up with related New Year’s resolution for improvement.

A scourge around the world from 2019 to sometime in 2023, one would think that COVID-19 would be on such New Year’s radar, but that does not seem so. Perhaps that comes from the slow denouement. Or maybe from the psychological denial of its continuing risk. Or the return of conspiracy cultish thinking.

It is true that the overall prevalence and intensity of COVID-19 infections have decreased in the United States and most countries. Yet, as the NPR article “A new normal? 6 stories about the evolving U.S. COVID response in 2023” discussed,1 we still have the ravages of long COVID, as well as the subvariants emerging such as the JN.1, which has been causing the most new infections in the United States. At the same time, many Americans have not received the latest rounds of vaccination, that being less than 20% of adults in 2022 and 2023. In addition, less infected individuals are receiving the treatment of Paxlovid. Masks are basically off and more workers back in workplaces. No wonder then that hospitalizations are starting to increase once again. As of Christmas Eve, hospitalizations in the Chicago area were up 13% from the previous week, and winter is when everyone crowds together more indoors.

From the psychiatric perspective, the COVID situation may be even worse. There seems to be widespread denial of its dangers. Late arising trauma symptoms and prolonged grief keep emerging. Turning to street drugs and alcohol seem to be occurring more than formal psychiatric treatment. “Brain fog” is common with long COVID, and there are no proven cures.

The same social divisiveness that occurred during the early years of COVID-19 is still present, if not escalated, in our political divisiveness as we head into the election year. Physician and public burnout persist. Mental health care cannot meet the need, even with newer telepsychiatry and internet options. Our overall prevalence of mental disturbances continues to rise. In the broad social psychiatric arena, the trauma and losses of continuing and escalating wars are topped by Israel/Hamas and Ukraine/Russia.

Public and mental health services have not recovered and improved, so are we prepared enough for a new and different pandemic? Many states are throwing out PPE supplies, whether from expiration dates or space, but without plans for stocking up for the future.

One of the key historical principles of psychiatry is that we learn from a patient’s and our profession’s history in order to better understand the needs of the present as we work for a better future.

If we add a focus onto society, 3 years ago tomorrow marks the insurrection march on the Capitol protesting the Presidential election. January 6, 2021, was the deadliest day of the COVID-19 pandemic up to that time, with almost 4000 dying from it. It would therefore seem prudent to better prepare for both with the upcoming election in 2024 and the risk of COVID over the next year in order to avoid the psychological and physical trauma of the cultish thinking involved in both challenges.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

Reference

1. Huang P. A new normal? 6 stories about the evolving U.S. COVID response in 2023. NPR. December 19, 2023. Accessed January 5, 2024. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2023/12/19/1220192678/a-new-normal-6-stories-about-the-evolving-u-s-covid-response-in-2023

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