Psychologists are studying the affects the COVID-19 pandemic is causing on individual minds around the world. To mitigate these effects, a slew of recommendations and predictions have been made so as to measure the consequences and appropriately adapt to the so-called new normal. However, opportunities for social change or the possibility of personal growth have not arisen.
The current rules require individual efforts for the good of society as a whole. These efforts only require the implementation of three behaviors: mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. They are easy enough to do. However, the data show that the number of new cases has not gone down, so we can assume that people are not following these rules. It is thus clear that the real perception of health risk among the population is low.
The projections have faltered. Psychology as a scientific discipline has been ignored, even though it offers ideas on how to promote and maintain health, prevent the spread of disease, and treat it. This is what Matarazzo referred to in 1980 as Health Psychology.
Many actions taken in the new normal have forgotten the know-how accumulated over the years in the field of psychology. Attempts have been made disregarding the long history of research into human behavior. We have gotten lost in new words for old concepts.
The key lies in Health Psychology and risk perception studies. Humans will act one way or another based on risk perception, and they will therefore contribute to society overcoming the health crisis for the common good or endanger their individual well-being and, therefore, that very same common good.
Things to be considered include the individual risk assessment, the feelings generated by uncertainty and lack of understanding of the disease and the consequences thereof, the personal strategies implemented to address this situation, and society’s capacity to communicate and manage risk. The end goal is to accept that the new normal is associated with old behaviors that are a risk to public health.
The new normal must encompass how we address risk factors and respond with protective measures. It is in this arena where the knowledge from our field needs to play a role in shifting the behavior of all the individuals in our society. The old public health advocacy as the new normal.