Panic and Pandemics
Panic and Pandemics
In light of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this blog post will focus on the
fear of contagion to contagion of fear. To begin, let’s distinguish between a pandemic and
an epidemic. A pandemic can be defined as a type of epidemic, as it spreads
geographically affects entire countries/whole world, in comparison to epidemics which
relate to an outbreak that spreads rapidly. These words single-handedly induce fear when
spoken out loud, therefore it is important to address the feeling of fear they cause amongst
As globalisation has increased worldwide, so has epidemics and eventually pandemics.
Some examples of these that had long-lasting impacts are AIDS, Ebola and Cholera.
However, the most prominent one to date was the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, which killed a
total of 18,036 people worldwide . It was also discovered that 1 approximately 42.9% of
individuals saying that their health would be “very seriously” impacted if they were infected
with the virus2. As this is nearly half of the sample, it is evident that these pandemics
cause feelings of worry in the population. At this current moment in time, COVID-19 is on
track to becoming one of the deadliest pandemics that has been seen in years, which is
why it’s highly important to minimise fear and understand its cause.
Addressing the emotion of fear, it is evident that this is linked with specific behaviours; one
of these is survival mechanisms such as Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. Fear is an innate
mechanism which is crucial for survival, which would explain it’s growth during pandemics.
It is common for many individuals to display their selfishness when there is an outbreak.
One contemporary example of this is people who began panic-buying when COVID-19
was announced (hence the scarcity of toilet rolls at the moment!). Media coverage over the
past few weeks have displayed many fights breaking out in shops over essentials, where
fear has developed into anger and panic. Additionally, suspicion occurs during pandemics
as people fear they may catch the virus and become afraid of other individuals who may be
already be carrying the virus. Recent COVID-19 guidelines state that you must stay 2 metres
apart from anyone outside your household, which can increase this.
On the other hand, many people turn to kindness in a time of crisis. An amazing example
of this is the staggering 400,000 individuals who signed up in the space of 24 hours to
volunteer for the NHS, in order to fight the ongoing COVID-19 crisis 3. It is news like this
that restores our faith in humanity and helps us realise that there is still good in the world.
In times like these it is vital that we all work together and treat everyone with kindness and
Despite the disruption and loss pandemics can cause, they can be teach us many lessons
on how to deal with future outbreaks. An example of this, which I have already spoken
about in this blog, is panic buying; citizens should have been informed sooner that this
wasn’t necessary and that people are still allowed to leave their homes if they need food.
Information needs to be distributed more clearly and as rapid as possible, in order for
everyone to be prepared.
Hopefully this blog has informed you about fear during a pandemic and helped you better
understand why you may be feeling panicked. Make sure you stay safe, keep washing
your hands, reach out to loved ones (even if this is just over the phone for now), and know
that this won’t last forever.
By Molly Elizabeth Gravestock, Assistant Psychologist
If you have been affected by any issues raised in this post, you can contact The
Samaritans for free on 116 123, or you can visit Mind’s website at https://
For specialised treatment please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
1 “Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 – update 100”. World Health Organization (WHO). 14 May 2010.
Retrieved 24 March 2020.
2 Seale, H., McLaws, M. L., Heywood, A. E., Ward, K. F., Lowbridge, C. P., Van, D., … & MacIntyre,
C. R. (2009). The community’s attitude towards swine flu and pandemic influenza. Medical Journal
of Australia, 191(5), 267-269.
Brunning, H. (2018). Psychoanalytic reflections on a changing world. Routledge.