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

the population.

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



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.

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