We cannot be complacent. Here’s why.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Complacency did.”
I cannot prove it, but as the pandemic is in some sort of remission, people seem relieved, even desperate, to get back to some sense of normality. Recently, perhaps in my own complacency, I began to think that because it was the pandemic that led to these weekdays columns, that we did not need it any more. Then, as I was shaken awake when a reader described these columns as like the blowing of a shofar to awaken everyone to challenges, some escalating and continuing social psychiatric challenges quickly and serendipitously came to my attention, to wit:
-Racism remains. This challenge jumped to the top of my list when 2 Black male Tennessee Democrats and 1 white female Democrat were tried in the state House for disrupting the floor by protesting the nearby mass shooting by a gender fluid perpetrator, and the need to address gun violence. Intersectionality of race and gender thereby was present. The men were voted to be expelled, the woman not by only 1 vote, and she said it was due to the color of her skin.
-International conflicts. With the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and the brutal winter stalemate and no end in sight, the nuclear threat remains, while the mental health traumas are piling up and psychiatric hospitalization of soldiers escalates. Meanwhile, Israel and the surrounding areas erupted during the holy holidays of Passover, Easter weekend, and Ramadan.
-Anti-Semitism escalation. Yearly increases are reported on anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and elsewhere, but innovative interventions are still lacking.
-The deaths of despair and children. Adding on to the “deaths of despair” among white middle-aged men are the escalating deaths of our youth, not from COVID-19, but from firearms, leaving the United States uniquely with decreasing longevity among wealthy nations.
-Our climate crisis. Not nearly enough global measures are in place to address the increasing disasters and projections for the future, with the poor at high risk.
-Burnout in physicians and society. Burning out in the workplace and at home is continuing at a high pace, with the epidemic rate of physicians still topping the list.
-Internet communication. The tremendous benefits of the internet are being dented by evidence of social media addictive harms, cultish thinking, and brain changes, and now the apparent mixed blessings of artificial intelligence, so well illustrated by Ronald W. Pies, MD, in his article “My Close Encounter with an Intriguing AI: Does Google’s “Bard” Pass the Turing Test?” He describes his interaction with AI Bard, which replied that: “I am also trying to be relatable and to make you feel like you are having a conversation with a real person.”
-Homelessness in America. Though some promising pilots for housing are being tried, large populations remain, filled with those having mental illness, especially in the western large cities.
-Trans backlash. Prohibiting trans athletes from participation in competition, along with proposed state legislation to limit the gender-affirming medical care of youth, threaten their mental health.
-Abortion control. Although there still pockets of abortion availability in some locals and online, this can be said to be another example of politicians practicing medicine.
And there are more, including the need to complete the mourning of losses and address the emergence of posttraumatic reactions. It is psychologically understandable that the public wants to move forward after 3 stressful years of risk and uncertainly. Yet too much remains to be done for our collective mental health to become too complacent.
Historically, complacency has led to the demise of many businesses, such as Kodak, Sears, Borders, and Blockbuster. I think most of us know that complacency can also occur in our clinical work. The patient feels well enough and does not want to go deeper, and we go along with it, especially when there is oversight about how much time and money is to be spent by the business controllers of medicine.
Complacency can be comfortable, but illusionary. If anyone should know that, we psychiatrists should. If we have the curiosity, concerns, and compassion about such social psychiatric challenges, our expertise can potentially help.
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™.