Keep calm and stay at home

By Dr Hamed Al Sinawi, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist

Since the break out of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the world applied the stay at home policy while others had to introduce curfew to limit the transmission of infection, which had a tremendous impact on several aspects of our lives.

Countries closed its borders, limiting air flights to those transporting goods, Businesses had to close; others were able to work from home. School children and their parents had to stay at home and try out homeschooling. Thousands of our students who were studying overseas had to be flown back to Oman. The psychological impact of COVID-19 includes feeling anxious about one’s health and that of their loved ones, and about ones financial status, as many people have to work to get paid.

There is also the trauma of social isolation, which is associated with depression and other mental health problems. The sad news is that despite government advice to people to stay at home, the disease is spreading, and more people are being admitted to hospitals, others dying from the infection.

Let us discuss the psychological explanation of why some people continue to challenge the stay at home advice

  1. People fail to see how their behavior hurts others

People who do not stay at home don’t understand the impact of their behavior and how it may affect others. This mainly occurs in places where there are few cases diagnosed with COVID -19, and when people don’t follow the news. As a result, they develop a false sense of safety thinking, as they are not in close contact with the virus.

  1. Infection is invisible

Our brains detect patterns that help us survive. Let us take an example; if you eat expired food and start vomiting, your brain makes a direct link between the cause (expired food) and effect (the vomiting). This way, you learn to check the expiry dates in the future. With regards to COVID- 19, there can be a delay between getting the virus and feeling sick, so their brain does not make this cause-effect link.

  1. Some People feel invulnerable:

Some adolescents feel special and immune to the problems that affect others, no matter how they behave. This is known as ‘The Personal Fable” which blinds people from seeing the consequences of their actions. This is very relevant in Oman where 30% of population is under 14 years of age.

  1. People don’t know what we don’t know

Despite the government’s efforts in providing health advice about COVID-19, through several media channels, some social media outlets tend to spread misleading information or fake news. This makes it hard for people to know whom to trust, so some they end up dismissing information that doesn’t align with their beliefs.

5.The rebelling against feeling controlled

When people’s free will is threatened, they tend to rebel to protect the right to have an opinion. This is why some people, even in the developed world, consider the lockdown as an attack to their freedom, despite the risks of getting infected and spreading it if ones continue to go out and break the social distancing advice.

The above explanations may shed some light in understanding why some people tend to ignore advice to stay at home. Since their behavior puts others at risk and causes a delay in eradicating the infections , its understandable that some countries used more strict measure to insure people are staying at home which lead to significant drop in the number of new cases.