By Michael Blumenfield, M.D.
(Dr. Blumenfield is the Sidney E. Frank Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College and currently in private practice in Los Angeles. He is the author of a new book “ShrinkTalk” scheduled to be released in December)
It has been about 4 months since I first wrote about “Fatal Denial” and how this unconscious psychological defense mechanism is leading to thousands of preventable deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic. Denial is a well known unconscious psychological defense that we use in many situations on a regular basis. It is bolstered by another psychological mechanism of rationalizations such as a person accepting the idea that the need to wear masks is overblown, is a political issue or isn’t necessary if you are relatively young and healthy, etc. etc. The scientific facts and the reality are quite clear, in that the failure to wear masks and social distance is causing the continued increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and thousands of subsequent related deaths!!
The periodic and increased statements by scientists and health experts about the necessity to take these precautions apparently has not made any difference in this tragic situation.
I know that the people who are participating without masks and social distancing in public demonstrations and social gatherings do not want to get sick and die or cause loved ones to do the same. Nevertheless, the number of cases and fatalities continues to increase.
I have suggested that there is an approach to counter this trend which will utilize our understanding of the unconscious psychological mechanisms at play here. That would be to identify the “objects” (people) with whom the Fatal Deniers value and are their so-called heroes. This may be actors and actresses, sports figures, musicians and even in some cases politicians and other leaders. These people can be identified by running some “Focus Groups” (techniques well known to the advertising industry) with the “non maskers” who are utilizing “fatal denial”. These “heroes”( well known public figures) would then be approached and asked to participate in a massive public service outreach program that would include television, radio, Internet, billboards etc. in which they would plead with the public to save lives and wear masks, social distance etc. Also included in this public service outreach program would be segments with people who have lost loved because of COvid 19 perhaps some people who now realize how they have caused illness and death to loved ones by not taking the recommended precautions.
I have spoken to many colleagues in the mental health professions who agree with me in this analysis and suggested solution. I tried to bring these ideas to the attention of people who might be able to utilize them but so far have not made any progress. Such a program will require some financial support and hopefully cooperation of the media but surely it is worth any price.
(Dr. Blumenfield can be contacted at Mblumenfield@aol.com or at 818 564-4207)