Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 81

Remember the Alamo: Watching a Wired War

We must not allow what happened at the Alamo to happen to Ukraine.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Of course, we all have the choice to watch the daily news on the invasion of Ukraine or not. I have chosen to do so extensively, even on vacation in Houston—maybe because I have the opportunity to go on an enjoyable vacation, while feeling anguish that many Ukrainians are at the same time fleeing for their lives. Besides, it seems that being a psychiatrist bears some responsibility to engage with a situation that is harmful to the mental health of so many. Here are my social psychiatric perspectives to date.

1. The Absence of Psychiatrists on Societal Media

While many media pundits describe Putin as paranoid, irrational, or isolated, I have not encountered any related commentary from those experts in assessments, us in psychiatry, including the American Psychiatric Association. As the nuclear risk becomes more apparent, when does the Goldwater Rule restraining psychiatrist commentary about such public figures become too much of a risk in itself? Perhaps—and hopefully—our unique expertise is being used behind the scene.

2. We Are All Bystanders

Given the unique opportunity to follow this war in some ongoing detail, citizens and mental health professionals cannot claim to be innocent bystanders. As fellow humans, we are, by definition, involved bystanders. We can even become involved by boycotting Russian vodka!

3. Man-Made Trauma

This invasion is a man-made trauma and, as such, will likely produce high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder. By using technology like Skype, we have the opportunity to help colleagues in Ukraine.

4. The Specter of Anti-Semitism

Ukraine has had a varying history toward the Jewish people, going from pogroms to the Democratic election of the current President Zelensky, who lost many of his Jewish relatives during the Holocaust. Russia has also had such a varying history. Bringing up Denazifying Ukraine by Putin seems to be an anti-Semitic statement that displaces responsibility for the current well-being of the Jewish people in Ukraine.

5. Abandonment

We know how psychologically harmful abandonment is for the vulnerable, including children, our patients, and weaker countries. The United States in 1994 took some responsibility for Ukraine. Have we done enough?

6. War as a Social Psychopathology

We have no classification of such social psychiatric problems as racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and burnout, among others. Do we need such a classification and, if so, wouldn’t war be such a social psychopathology?

Thinking about Houston and Texas, I am reminded of the Alamo in San Antonio. A small group of Americans defended the territory against the much larger and better equipped Mexican army. They held out much longer than anticipated, but eventually were defeated and killed. We must not allow that to happen in Ukraine.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.