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What damage is stress and fear causing on people’s psyches, and health, during this pandemic?
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What role is fear playing in generating worse outcomes during this COVID-19 crisis?

The COVID-19 outbreak is causing increasing death, despair, and financial disaster for many around the globe. Life has become extremely precarious.

The virus’ death toll is rising around the world, including in America. According to John Hopkins Hospital, (as of this posting on April 8, 2020) there are now over 399,816 cases of the virus in America, with 12,907 deaths, the largest percentage in New York.

To make matters worse, many have lost their jobs—and some businesses have been forced to close. Some 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last two weeks of March.

These harsh realities should make us consider this: what damage is stress and fear engendering on people’s psyches, and health, during this pandemic?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1933, stated “the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself” and talked about the “terror which paralyzes.” Roosevelt said these words during the Great Depression, which was spurred by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the greedy practices of speculation. Roosevelt was obviously concerned the fears of that time could worsen the conditions for the nation.

Fear is a natural emotion. But uncontrolled fear, especially if it morphs into irrational paranoia, often leads to dangerous, sometimes deadly, outcomes.

We should remember this as we tackle this crisis.

The fear unleashed by the coronavirus should not be underestimated. We saw, early on, the panic-stricken absolutely unnecessary hoarding of food and supplies. The fear of uncertain tomorrows is what we are living with now today.

People, as social creatures, are presently more isolated than before, while being bombarded by various forms of information—and misinformation. Unfortunately, much misinformation comes directly from the mouths of the media and this current White House.

Donald Trump initially called COVID-19 a “new hoax” and injected racism into the mix calling it the “Chinese virus.” Trump, like many Americans politicians, is a master manipulator at using fear to achieve political objectives. Fear of the Black, Latino, and Muslim “other” was the propaganda ploy he used to get many Americans to vote for him.

In this respect, Trump learned a lesson from former American leaders—who used fear and violence as tools of oppression to secure domestic and foreign objectives.

The media is even more skilled at using fear—especially, through the “if it bleeds, it leads” press rule. Journalism should be about informing the public. But this takes a back seat to the profits before people principle. Therefore, driving ratings take precedent. Has media done as much to inform as they have in inducing a state of public terror regarding COVID-19?

Now, the term “social isolation” has become a buzzword. We’re being told this is necessary to “flatten the curve.” But there are problems to consider here.

For example, what does this portend for those who have already been debilitated by societal isolation? How does social isolation help homeless street people? Is their perilous existence not made worse by further isolation? Will they not be further stigmatized by those who will see them as probable carriers of this disease?

The jail\prison population is also being ignored among all the calls for healthy practices. And while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been profiling as a voice of reason, his pushing for a bail reform rollback raises questions about his credibility. Why would he advance something like this now?

In America, the current state of fear is exacerbated by an understandable mistrust for our political leaders. This mistrust often creates more fears and suspicions.

Some have complained about online COVID-19 conspiracy theories blaming government intrigues for the outbreak. But fear regarding the true intentions of political leaders is justified given the myriad ways politicians often betray the trust of the people. American politicians, many of whom are professional liars, cannot expect that their motives in a crisis like this won’t be questioned.

For example, on Tuesday, Wisconsin still held primary elections, with long lines—where social distancing was non-existent. Why wasn’t this seen as an unconscionable health risk to voters’ lives? These sorts of self-serving inconsistencies lead to mistrust of government.

Another example is when we hear that politicians—like Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Sen. Jim Inhofe, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein—were more concerned with protecting their portfolios when this virus was just emerging in America. When these same politicians then turned around and argued that struggling Americans should not get taxpayer money, while people are dying, how can politicians expect to be trusted?

One of the biggest fears this COVID-19 is illuminating is the fear regarding healthcare. Many are now even more aware that health is the most important thing, and that all it takes is one health calamity to destroy them. But in America monetized medicine is the essence of our nation’s healthcare system. Expensive treatments, as opposed to cures, drive the profit-driven nature of American healthcare.

Medical bankruptcies are a leading cause of personal bankruptcies in America.

What does it say about politicians who argue we don’t have enough money to give Americans healthcare, while they can always find money for war? However, these same pretenders give us glorious grandstanding rhetoric about protecting America, as if protecting the citizenry is just about bombing some country.

African-Americans are now living with added terror—since statistics are now confirming that we are dying at an alarming rate due to COVID-19. Given America’s historic institutional racism we shouldn’t be surprised. Fear is always a constant among African-Americans because Black lives have never mattered much to White America.

Unlike other Americans, Blacks face death in a multitude of ways. In terms of healthcare, we face disproportionate rates of chronic diseases like: heart and lung disease, obesity, diabetes, smoking-related disease, stress, etc. Many of these health outcomes are driven by the racial conditions we live in, with its attendant fears.

Our rates of diabetes and obesity, in one respect, can be linked to the fact that healthy eating choices are largely absent in our economically struggling neighborhoods. But fear and depression play a role in our unhealthy consumption habits as well. Many of us are trying to eat, drink, and smoke, our troubles away.

Moreover, it seems obvious that our unhealthy levels of stress, in particular, is multiplied by the extreme racist oppression we face. We have to worry more about basic necessities than others. Our stress levels, regarding keeping roofs over our heads, and feeding and clothing ourselves are much worst because of our Black skins.

And when we aren’t stressed over these things, we have to worry about becoming the victim of crime—and not necessarily from a civilian. We may become a victim, like Kalief Browder, of the criminal justice system and get locked away unjustly in jail or prison. Or even worse yet, we may be gunned down, or otherwise murdered like Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, et al.

The COVID-19 calamity demonstrates the need for regular people to foster more trust among ourselves--and put less in compromised politicians. We must stop expecting politicians to be messiahs that will come save us.

In the end, we must arm ourselves with rational thoughts and actions so we’re not destroyed by uncontrolled fear during turbulent times.

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