The Back Cover: August 28, 2020
We all know that we are in the midst of a pandemic, but I will focus this week on the emotional side of the pandemic versus the clinical side.
Uncertain prognoses, looming severe shortages of resources for testing and treatment and for protecting responders and health care providers from infection, imposition of unfamiliar public health measures that infringe on personal freedoms, large and growing financial losses, and conflicting messages from authorities are among the major stressors that undoubtedly will contribute to widespread emotional distress and increased risk for psychiatric illness associated with Covid-19. Health care providers have an important role in addressing these emotional outcomes as part of the pandemic response.
It's a curious thing. We're in the midst of the worst global health crisis in over 100 years, and yet we're overflowing with jokes, memes, parodies, cartoons, gag videos, and gifs from cabin-fevered pet owners putting pajamas on their dogs for fun.
The sheer gross tonnage of it surely has something to do with all those comedians being out of work, and the number of people worldwide who are personally affected by the pandemic—thus more people weighing in on the subject. Plus, it's just human nature. We can't help ourselves. In the face of crises, as we often say, if we didn't laugh we'd cry.
There's nothing wrong with crying, of course. In fact, a lot of us would probably benefit from the salutary effect of a good jag. But you can't laugh and be scared at the same time. And laughter gives us a bit of benevolent amnesia, a chance to momentarily forget our troubles. In a word, escapism. People have always turned to humor in times of trouble, and the deeper the trouble, the more relief we need from it. “I feel extremely fortunate that I still have laughter in me,” I recently heard someone say. “Very soon, I might not.”