Leading psychiatrist supports emergency orders, but wants for more details
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Amid rising levels of anxiety in the country over the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19), a leading epidemiologist and psychiatrist expressed concern that a prolonged nationwide lockdown, without balance, could result in “national paralysis, and hopelessness”.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Dr David Allen, who leads a counseling initiative, said he agrees with the nationwide 24-hour curfew and emergency measures aimed at preventing the local spread of the virus.
However, he explained those measures present a challenge in balancing the “lockdown and also saving your country”.
“I think the prime minister is trying to flatten the curve and instead of getting 70 percent infection right away, you may flatten that curve and get 10 percent to 20 percent,” he said.
“The difficulty in a small country is, in epidemiology, you must balance the shutdown of the country and save that number of people from death — you’re still going to get a four percent mortality added to your existing mortality happening in the country — as opposed to losing your whole economy.
“If Nassau shuts down for more than month, the economy is broken.
“You’re going to have to ask yourself what’s worse.”
“…What’s worrying me right now is I hear a lot about what we are doing for this period, but I am wondering if people are working on the balance of the shutdown versus the open up because if you shutdown for four percent mortality and you end with 25 percent or 50 percent unemployment, you are going to destroy a country.
“What I am getting at is Bahamians are feeling it and I just came from a family which was [laid] off from Paradise Island without pay.”
Major hotels, namely Baha Mar and Atlantis Paradise Island, in New Providence announced temporary closures this week and the temporary layoffs of thousands of hotel workers.
Allen said he has been visited by other laid off employees, who feel out of options and fearful, adding that at this moment they are just as, if not more, fearful of the future.
He noted that The Bahamas has yet to recover from the impact of Hurricane Dorian, which decimated Grand Bahama and Abaco last September, affecting nearly 30,000 people.
“Vulnerability easily moves people to the left to fear,” he said.
“You can imagine just after Dorian and now this COVID-19 virus; and now this powerful shutdown, which I think the prime minister did the right thing — I’m only asking balance this shutdown with the open up.
“Fear is false expectations appearing real.
“The mind is a wild horse, but the body keeps score.
He continued: “Once fear comes in, it then goes to panic. Panic is just fear multiplied. What happens in the height of panic — it’s like a bell shaped curve. At the height of that curve, your IQ drops. If you are in a room where the door is open and you panic, you may believe that you’re locked in because your brain has now changed.”
Allen said in a panicked society people will undergo a “dumbed down” way of coping and that “will lead to paralysis”.
“If you have paralysis of your population that will lead to what; hopelessness,” he explained.
“So vulnerability on the left to fear; fear then to panic; and panic to dumbing down, which can lead to paranoia and paralysis, but the end result of going to the left with fear is hopelessness.”
However, the psychiatrist said if society is moved in the opposite direction — to the right of the curve — there is love, empathy and compassion.
Allen encouraged the public to practice the acronym ‘STOP’ amid this global health crisis — a measure he practices three times a day.
Noting that the word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means breath, Allen said every time an individual takes breath, they should be reminded that they continue to have life, which he said is God given.
He said deep breaths promote the removal of carbon dioxide from the body and brain and is a part of “contemplative mindfulness”.
“The idea is if you would sit down three times a day and take five minutes; and you take deep breathes; and at the end of the breath, count from one to four to allow the oxygen to circulate and then out slowly; after you’ve finished six of those breathes, you will find yourself very relaxed,” Allen encouraged.
“It’s very hard for fear to take a hold of a relaxed body.
“Remember the brain is wild horse, but the body keeps the score.
“I can’t stop the wild horse, but if I can relax my body, when you quiet yourself, you then start to say ‘ah’. Your IQ comes back because you are oxygenated and then you think of not disaster, but creativity.”
‘S’ Stop — “If you are too busy to stop right now you are too busy.”
‘T’ Take Breaths — “Inhale and hold to the count of four to make sure the oxygen is circulating around your brain because brain cells need oxygen. And the whole COVID-19 thing is respiratory right. I am counteracting COVID-19 by taking breath deeply and letting the oxygen, oxygenate you; and then you breathe out.”
“O” Observe “Take note of what you are grateful for. Don’t just think about it, but write it down and when you come to the fifth thing you write down, you will feel a sense of peace and love coming through you.”
“P” Proceed — “Get up and do what you have to do. You will get up and you will clean…; call someone and share love; step out and see the color of the Bahamian sea and say my gosh, this is wonderful.”
He added: “When you get worried, go back to STOP”.