Please do not misunderstand: I am not making light of three very serious crises besetting the world at this moment, the first two, especially, being public health crises of the most tragic order. But the total dominance of these stories, in what feels like endless news cycles at this point, is striking. Confusion and high emotions bordering on hysteria are becoming ever more prominent elements of these stories, and this is most unfortunate. Acknowledging that tragedies are occurring and feeling empathy for the victims is one thing. Following this with an appropriate – and helpful – response can be quite another. Achieving peace in the Middle East, especially in light of the U.S involvement of the past 50 years, is a great discussion topic, but not really appropriate to this space. Ebola as a public health issue has been mentioned here before, but this story continues to develop along lines whereby fear and hysteria seem to predominate – especially in the media – while sober, rational, even compassionate elements play a secondary role. It feels like too many people’s survival circuits – fight or flight, precognitive responses centered in the amygdala (also known as the “reptile brain”) – are working overtime here. The ebola crisis has deep roots in failed public health systems, which nowhere near describes the situation in this country, or any developed nation, for all the criticisms one may wish to make. At least lately, more is being said about the moral failure of the developed nations in not doing a better job of promoting modern and effective public health safety nets in all countries, even those in which we may not have economic or strategic interests. Appropriate action, here, would be one good consequence of the current tragedy. In contrast to all this, please note the recent timely and effective response, right here in Boston, to the unexpected closing of homeless shelters and drug recovery programs on Long Island (that bridge had looked pretty shaky for a long time already). People were placed elsewhere in short order; the director of the Pine Street Inn credits this success to contingency planning by Public Health officials. So, as Dorothy and the scarecrow and the tin man approached the spooky woods, the question of what dangers might lurk there got raised, which elicited the famous entertaining and quite hysterical response. And they were right! There was a lion! Only he was…cowardly. So much for hysteria.
John Dabrowski, LICSW
Neponset Health Center
&Geiger Gibson Community Health Center