Forum: A test of nation's psychological defence

Shoppers at Meidi-Ya Supermarket in Liang Court, on Feb 8, 2020.
Shoppers at Meidi-Ya Supermarket in Liang Court, on Feb 8, 2020.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The recent panic buying of essentials in supermarkets serves as a timely reminder of how an epidemic can also trigger a psychological contagion that can potentially become rife with distrust and hostility (Coronavirus: Fighting a psychological battle, Feb 9). This raises the urgent need to maintain social harmony during such times.

It is natural and normal to be anxious during the outbreak of the coronavirus here, because our brains are wired for such a response.

However, some have let their fears rise to disproportionate levels, resulting in somewhat irrational behaviour, such as the hoarding of essential groceries.

Such undue fear becomes harmful, especially from a societal standpoint. At this point, fear can cripple our society, because fear often begets more fear and misunderstanding or distrust from other parties.

It is imperative that we assuage unwarranted anxiety that can cause disharmony and destabilise our nation.

For a start, each of us can play our small part by debunking myths and rumours, or ascertaining the truth of a piece of news and then conveying the message to our friends or loved ones in a sensitive manner. This can help to allay fears that lead to irrational behaviour.

We should also continue to safeguard and strengthen the social fabric. This ought to be an ongoing process, even amid this epidemic, as a close-knit society is less vulnerable to prejudice and misunderstanding during crises.

Whether we can react to the current disease outbreak with equanimity or not will be a great test of our psychological defence.

Let us stand in solidarity as we fight this psychological battle against the virus, and not let our seemingly "uncultured" behaviour tarnish our good international reputation.

Aaron Low

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2020, with the headline 'A test of nation's psychological defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe