Psychological denial in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic
Investing resources in the health and biomedical sector, including also the psychological one, is not only the best solution to limit the vulnerability of the current pandemic, but also as a preventive measure for other possible emergency scenarios (and not) that our highly interdependent society could face in the near future.
In this period in Italy we have witnessed the formal transition of the containment measures adopted to manage the pandemic from the “phase 1” of health emergency to “phase 2” of psychosocial and economic semi-emergency destined to persist at least in the short and medium term.
As we know, the pandemic is a complex biopsychosocial phenomenon that changes over time characterized by the strictly biological purpose (technically called teleonomy) of the virus that requires a human host interacting directly or not with the biological, psychological and socio-cultural purposes peculiar to our species (Agnoletti, 2020).
The “phase 1” of the pandemic had to consider, in addition to the strictly biological and physiological aspect of the virus interaction (see the intensive care units as a paradigmatic example), also the coercive administration of social behaviors that prevent its spread through policies aimed at creating a partial quarantine (or social distancing). Quarantine is in fact a functional tool to contain the pandemic but, as is now known, it produces a series of relevant and widespread psychophysical problems (Brooks et al, 2020).
Already in “phase 1” the aspect of social policies could have benefited greatly from the application of the scientific knowledge of social psychology, in particular from the Time Perspective and Persuasion (Agnoletti & Zimbardo, 2020a; Agnoletti & Zimbardo, 2020b), as well as of course the specific psychological support dedicated to the social categories most affected by the emergency.
In the “phase 2” of containment measures (intrinsically characterized by the priorities of the psychosocial and economic dimensions of pandemic management) where there is a massive and widespread transfer of responsibility from the quarantine rules imposed by the authorities to the individual and social choices taken daily by citizens within their greater degree of freedom and autonomy acquired, the contribution of psychology (in particular clinical and social psychology) should be considered even more important than “phase 1” if not considered even indispensable for effective pandemic management .
It is sad to note, however, that the recent Italian policies adopted by the government to deal with and manage “phase 2” have not substantially provided any resources for the psychological sector, denying the solid scientific literature and the foreseeable negative economic consequences deriving from the lack of investment in this sector.
Unfortunately, in fact, it is not difficult to predict that if this cultural deficit, which I have nicknamed “psychological denial”, will not be quickly corrected, the psychological, social and economic damages will be significant, widening the socio-economic gap of our country further worsening the already uncertain Italian situation. .
Finding that the so-called Relaunch Decree does not invest any resources of the 3.25 billion foreseen for the Health Service to psychologists unfortunately confirms how culturally backward our country is in this sector and how much this backwardness is potentially risky for Italian citizens.
Being able to invest resources in the health and biomedical sector including also the psychological one is not only the best solution to limit the vulnerability of the current pandemic, but also as a preventive measure for other possible emergency scenarios (and not) that our highly interdependent society could face in the next future.
While on the one hand Italy made forward-looking and shareable political choices in “phase 1” of the pandemic that gave priority to future public health by rightly sacrificing economic aspects in the short term, the initial management of “phase 2” seems to be opposite sign due to the fact that irrationally greatly underestimates the future impact of psychological and social dynamics.
The causes of this “psychological denial” carried out by the Italian government cannot be solely attributable to the poor “visibility” of the psychological sciences proposed in the past by the Italian psychological institutions for the simple fact that in a culturally globalized world such as the present one, the importance to include knowledge and psychological services within institutional policies is no longer conceivable or conceivable.
It is therefore desirable to quickly correct this error of Italian politics by giving greater importance to the sector of psychological well-being as fundamental as it is strategic both for the health and for the economy of our country.