How public health threats can mess with our heads

Medical professionals aren’t the only ones responding to fears about Ebola.

Dr. Anthony Ng, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital in Bangor, breaks down how we respond emotionally to public health threats in a presentation picked up recently by Psychiatric Times.

“People get anxious when it’s something they can’t see,” he said. “Ebola you can’t see.”

Dr. Anthony Ng, chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital

Dr. Anthony Ng, chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital

Ng describes the top five stress reactions to public health epidemics. People experience many of the symptoms whether it’s Ebola posing a threat or illnesses such as the H1N1 flu or SARS, he said. But as an exotic virus that often proves deadly, Ebola ups the anxiety ante for many, Ng said.

He starts with the physical symptoms — not of the disease itself but of the fear an outbreak can instill:


Then there’s our emotional response:


Fear of a disease outbreak can also affect our thinking:


And potentially how we live our lives day to day:


Some of us are affected on a spiritual level:



Ng said he’s been working with colleagues at the federal level as part of Ebola preparedness efforts. Mental health professionals are aiming to ease the public’s fears about an outbreak of the virus in the U.S., helping worried patients to rationally think through their individual risk, which remains very low for most of us, he said.

As the Maine CDC reiterated today, Maine has had no cases of Ebola. The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms.



Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.