The Only Thing We Have to Fear (About Ebola), is Fear Itself


I’m not one to say “I told you so,” but it does appear the relentless fear-mongering by pundits and politicians alike is taking a toll on America’s mental health. Just this morning, Nina Pham walked out of isolation, having been declared “virus free.” I don’t envy her the reactions I expect she’ll get from those who have fallen ill with another plague here in America: the unreasoning and irresponsible panic concerning Ebola virus disease (EVD). In our schools, shopping centers and airports, delays, cancellations and false alarms are becoming increasingly common — for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Take a deep breath. Go ahead, it’s safe — honest. During FDR’s First Inaugural Address, he told Americans “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” At the time, he was addressing the hoarding of money and fears of continued instability in the banking industry. Today, that fear has medical supply companies relabeling items as “Ebola protection kits,” and parents keeping their kids home from school, because one of their classmates is running a fever and they’re convinced it must be Ebola.

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The paranoia gripping many Americans may not send them scurrying to hide spare coins in Mason jars, but have you checked your stock portfolio lately? Across the country, people are stocking up on canned goods and “survival gear.” Those folks who advertise with noted conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, selling kits which allow you to drink your own urine, are making a killing. Honestly now — is that any way to live?

Mental health experts have weighed in, and the consensus is this: there is no cause for panic. Many people read the terror-inducing headlines, and never bother to educate themselves about the transmission of EVD. Knowledge is power; people who base decisions on an irrational fear of Ebola, without first informing that opinion in fact (keeping the kids home from school/not traveling to Texas), are far more likely to suffer from anxiety, too.

Even relatively intelligent people aren’t immune to this burgeoning mental health crisis. In a recent interview with Health Day, the director of South Dakota’s Disaster Mental Health Institute, Gerard Jacobs, said:

I think there’s been a gross overreaction on the part of the media … accurate information can be a good antidote to anxiety.

Should we place Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone under quarantine (banning international travel)? Of course not, but more and more politicians are choosing to parrot their constituent’s fear (telling them what they want to hear during an election cycle), instead of helping to spread the message of the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross:

The only solution is how can we join our efforts to contain those kinds of viruses and epidemics at their epicenter, right where they start.

FDR called this type of fear “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” This nationwide dread, caused by the news that a single patient from Liberia happened to die in a Texas hospital, isn’t healthy. Let’s use Coming Attractions Bridal & Formal in Akron, Ohio as an example (where the owner, Anna Younker, placed herself into “voluptuary quarantine” following a visit to her shop by Amber Vinson).

The Cleveland Plain dealer tracked down a man who happened to be in the shop for a tuxedo fitting at the time of nurse Vinson’s visit. He seems to have a healthy attitude about the entire affair:

I didn’t exchange any bodily fluids with anyone, so I’m not worried about [contracting Ebola]. I’m much more likely to be mistakenly killed by a police officer in this country than to be killed by Ebola, even if you were in the same bridal shop.

For the record, fever, headache, and muscle pain are also symptoms of influenza (which is far more likely to be a public health problem in the coming months). If you’re feeling lousy, I’m sorry — but you’re probably not going to die, America. I can nearly guarantee you’re not going to contract the Ebola virus — but if you don’t stop listening to media pundits and politicians — your odds of suffering a panic attack are looking better and better.

You’re welcome.

H/T: Think Progress | Image: Creative Commons

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