The second article in this series looked at the 1918 Influenza ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic, and took into account the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with a special focus on groups of the population, which may be particularly vulnerable during these times.
Other notable pandemics include the Swine flu/H1N1 pandemic in 2009 (similar to the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic in 1918) but the consequences were far less devastating, with fewer deaths than regular influenza causes on a yearly basis. However, there was a positive spin-off from this outbreak as it was one of the first outbreaks where policy reports included mental health and recognized the need for it to be included as an aspect of preparedness.
Social media is a sign of the times we live in today and could be described as a ‘necessary evil’. Information can be spread far and wide, yet at an even more rapid pace, inaccurate information can also be spread far and wide.
The Zika virus (2015 – 2016) initially had a mild course, but it was later found to cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, and severe microcephalia in unborn children of infected mothers. The Zika outbreak showed how rapidly a virus can spread globally, in this case from Micronesia, across the Pacific to Brazil where it continued to spread. It is still a public health concern, as there is no vaccine, and it has continued to spread to South and Central America, the Caribbean and several states within the USA.
What was noteworthy about the Zika outbreak was how prominently it appeared in social media. In this instance, social media was utilized positively to disseminate information, to educate and to communicate any specific concerns raised by the public.
Lesson 4: Social media can be an incredibly positive and useful tool when the right messages are communicated. Figures who are in control such as Departments of Health, Governments, Prime Ministers and so on, need to respond to peoples’ fears with support, reassurance and, most importantly, accurate and timely information. Official and credible news sources should be identified and recommended to a panicked populace.
Pandemics disrupt our sense of reality, routine and order. They induce anxiety; the ill are uncertain about their survival and recovery; the healthy are worried they may get sick and they are worried about their loved ones who are ill. Pandemics cause uncomfortable feelings of helplessness and loss of control. During this time, it is imperative that the people on the forefront, the Health Care Professionals look after their own health, both physical and mental. Try to disseminate accurate information including websites which lead to the WHO, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) or other relevant bodies. Finally, ensure you have and maintain a support system. Let’s try and implement past lessons learnt, and actively learn from the current pandemic. We will be the ones people turn to for advice and reassurance when another pandemic hits in the future.
Insights, ideas and quotations come from the following:
Huremović D, Duan C, Linder H, St. Victor G, Ahmed S Psychiatry of Pandemics – A Mental Health Response to Infection Outbreak. Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2019