Fear-bola is a term coined to demonstrate wide spread panic, fear and anxiety in the wake of epidemics such as catching the ebola virus. This term is often used by heath care workers and mental health practitioners to understand the effects of epidemics, media coverage and limited medical knowledge on the spread of fear, anxiety and widespread panic.
Fear-bola and paranoia are consistent with risk perception and fears related to unknown and unfamiliar events or the uncertain future. With many outbreaks of diseases and illnesses, widespread panic can be expected depending on transmission methods, available vaccines, exposure risks, and reported or threatening fatalities.
Personal risks may be over exaggerated, creating more panic, while realistic threats may be given less priority. Misplaced overreactions can lead to many negative consequences, including; stereotyping and stigmatization, stress, over medication and a disruption of daily routines or activities.
In order to reduce the impact of fear and panic, accurate, timely and honest information must be provided to the public. Educated responses can be made regarding exposure and risk once honest and clear communication is provided. Media coverage can either facilitate or hinder the communication exchange and can be an outlet to either educate the public or propagate panic, fear and misinformation.
Psychotherapists and mental health professionals can also play an essential role in both the education process and in reducing fear. The bottom line remains that in order to avoid panic and pandemonium in the face of epidemics, pandemics or disasters, open, honest and clear communication is needed. An educated, connected and informed public can make better decisions, reduce undue stress and limit the impact of fear-bola and perceived threats on both mental and physical health. Helping individuals stay realistic about the impact of the real or imagined threat and rely on their abilities to keep themselves safe is key.
Article written by: Stacie Courtney-Mustaphi, Bach.Soc.Sci, MA Candidate MFT under the supervision of Cassandra Petrella, MA, Registered Psychotherapist
Lu, Stacy. (2015). “An epidemic of fear”. Monitor on Psychology. APA. Pp. 46-49.