Q:Am I “losing it” because I’ve started to buy extra stuff for a time of need? Am I mentally ill?
A:There’s not enough space to fully deal with your question in one column, so we’ll address the serious issue of “hoarding” in a later one.
Rational people prepare for a rainy day. But it’s not rational to buy 96 rolls of toilet paper for a family of three for what would likely be a two-day blizzard, or even a two-week isolation period. There’s a clear distinction between disaster preparedness and panic buying, which is what we suspect you may be concerned about.
Panic buying is often fueled by anxiety and is exacerbated by fear of the unknown, herd mentality, loss aversion, and stress-induced irrationality. It’s a gain-control maneuver in times of uncertainty, but it’s not a solution to the underlying problem.
Some people, referred to as “preppers,” are perpetually preparing. They may or may not be “hoarders,” who have a psychological condition. Preppers see their actions as a practical way of living. They believe every rational person should engage in this to some extent. In a 2010 study, researchers surmised that predisaster shopping is not characterized by panic and antisocial behaviors. Rather, preppers are simply organized individuals who heed warnings of impending disaster.
If your motivation is simply to be prepared for known eventualities in your area or even in the world, then this may be a sign of wisdom rather than mental illness.
Those who delay preparing often cite conflicting information from forecasters and a lack of resources as reasons for waiting until the last minute. We conclude that those who don’t heed warnings may actually be the ones who may be mentally troubled. If your motivation is simply to be prepared for known eventualities in your area or even in the world, then this may be a sign of wisdom rather than mental illness.
In general, people feel the need to do something that’s proportionate to what they perceive is the level of the crisis. In the case of respiratory disease epidemics, hand washing, hygienic practices, and social distancing go a long way to protect individuals and curb the spread. Nonetheless, for many people hand washing seems just too “ordinary.” Dramatic events intuitively require dramatic responses. That leads some people to act irrationally to acquire and store things in hopes of protecting themselves from the unknown. People who are overly anxious and distressed should seek a mental health evaluation and psychological assistance.
Most authorities recommend some actions along the spectrum of disaster- or crisis-preparation activities. We can see for ourselves that life situations may change quickly and drastically. Those of us who study, appreciate, and understand apocalyptic literature are advised to be prepared for what is to come in all aspects of our lives: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and especially spiritually. It’s reasonable and healthy to prepare. But even in times of crisis, whether we are fully prepared or only partially so, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, NKJV).*
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.