Mind Matters — Psychology in 2020

COVID19 has transformed the lives of all of us, whether we are in denial of its lethality and contagion or not. The most recent American Psychological Association bulletin, Monitor on Psychology, also looks at how, not only COVID19, but other events of 2020 have transformed psychology—and all of us.

Ironic how the year 2020 has been quite the re-envisioning of America. The APA Monitor asked for psychology’s leaders to reflect on the question, “How have the events of 2020 changed psychology …?”

To that question, James Jones, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware responded that on the subject of social inequality, psychology needs to do more. “We need to focus a laser light on systemic racism, exposing its damaging effects on all it touches. … Developing approaches to building coalitions of the willing would be a major contribution to staunching the erosion of our democracy and building a better society.”

V. Krishna Kumar, Ph.D., a professor at West Chester University, responded to the question by focusing on the need for behavioral change. He states, “The biggest lockdown in our lifetime called for a sea change in our everyday behaviors: wearing masks, physically distancing, and switching to the use of technology … .” Where behavioral changes have been dismissed, the COVID19 infections have risen, he asserts. He notes how the police killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks precipitated protests worldwide. Psychologists, he maintains, should help bring about behavioral changes at the societal level that would promote both physical and mental health, and could also work to “eradicate racism, poverty, and societal violence.” He’d like to see media and technology used “to disseminate authentic information globally to achieve these goals.”

Technology has also played a huge role how people are accessing psychotherapy. Telehealth has become the norm, it seems. What that means for large segments of the population who don’t have ready access is yet to be determined. For example, COVID19 has generated a huge economic upheaval which will have both medical and mental health consequences for many unemployed people. In the October issue of Monitor on Psychology, it was noted that “even before the pandemic, work in the United States was increasingly precarious, with more people working in contract or gig positions with few benefits.” As Americans increasingly suffer stress and anxiety, mental health needs, as well as physical health needs, must be addressed.

To add to present day stressors is the fact that COVID19 is not simply a “respiratory illness.” Instead, it affects various body systems, such as the heart and brain. Neurological problems most commonly associated with hospitalized COVID19 patients are stroke and delirium. It is unknown whether the neurological and psychological outcomes are short term of long term at this time.

As for the brain, let’s end on a good note! Scientists have discovered that the hormone oxytocin, produced in social bonding, may reverse the affects of the amyloid plaques in the brain, thus making oxytocin a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Proper use of science and technology can help the human condition. The corollary to that is: Wear your mask!