The Emotional Baggage Follow-Up Series: No, the Pandemic Is Not Over and We Still Need to Talk About It


The pandemic and its consequences aren’t over yet…




Most people are probably sick and tired of talking about the pandemic. That may be the psychological problem because we continue to be sick, but seem tired about doing anything more about it. However, by the very nature of human nature, psychiatrists often have to find ways to talk about what patients, and even ourselves, do not want to.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its psychiatric repercussions were the reason for starting this weekdays column in the first place, back in September 2021. This column was to supplement the weekly video on Psychiatry and Society that we started in October 2020 for the same reason, but that had proved inadequate in frequency to cover all the obvious social psychiatric problems going on alongside the pandemic, like burnout, climate instability, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, ageism, genderism, and the like.

Our first column on the pandemic last year was on January 20, 2022, titled “Our Words of the Year 2021 and What They May Be Telling Us.” No one word stood out.

On April 12, 2022, the column announced that we were “Approaching 1,000,000 Pandemic Deaths and 360,000 Prolonged Grief Disorders.” Prolonged grief disorder had just become an official diagnosis on the revised DSM-5.

Then, on May 2, 2022, our last 2022 column on the pandemic was “Deborah Birx, MD, and Her Excruciating Covid Ethical Dilemmas.” Remember her? She was the coronavirus response coordinator for President Trump. How much to criticize President Trump’s alternative medical facts was her ethical dilemma. She said very little.

The most prominent public pandemic physician was Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, we have not heard much from him lately. Perhaps that is because after these years of scrutiny, criticism, and death threats while maintaining the public should follow the science, he is retiring come this Saturday. All the way along, psychiatrists were missing from the public discussion and messaging.

On September 19th, President Biden declared the “The Pandemic is Over,” though he then walked that back by saying more work needs to be done. By now, it is obvious that it is not over, with the surge of a new variant in China, as well as escalating cases in the United States. Masking and obtaining the new booster have decreased dramatically. Fortunately, the severity of disease has lessened at the same time, but there is still long COVID, let alone the increasing possibility of even other pandemics. More and more of our friends and family have gotten infected, often for the first time.

These seems to be a collective denial, conscious or unconscious—a denial of the emotional fear and uncertainty. Denial that the government can do more; denial about the need for the new boosters; denial about the need for a more complete future vaccine; denial of the need to mask in crowded indoor settings. And, given the relative silence of psychiatry that I have covered today, denial by us.

I wonder what word might fit the pandemic for 2022. I would say denial. What word would you use?

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 related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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