What Mental Health Pros Say About COVID-19 Hoarding

Since the new coronavirus was acknowledged as a serious health problem, we’ve all seen photos and read stories about people panic-buying certain items – especially toilet paper. While there’s no reason to believe the U.S. supply chain of products or food will halt due to the pandemic, the hoarding continues. KGNU’s Roz Brown talked to a psychologist to find out why.

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“For whatever reason, given what has happened to them – given their health, their physical, their psychological health, where they are in the moment – many people are just more prone to stress at particular situations,” said Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

He adds that an absence of early communication about COVID-19 left some people without confidence that the supply chain would remain intact. He says in this type of situation, some of us feel more vulnerable than others.

A store aisle in Superior, Colorado on March 23rd.

“You go to the store to buy the essentials that you will need, and if you don’t find the food that you usually like, there is other food that you can buy. But there really is no substitute for toilet paper,” said Fischhoff.

The government has assured Americans there’s no reason to believe the U.S. supply chain of products or food will halt due to the pandemic, but many store shelves are empty of certain goods, so the hoarding continues. Especially toilet paper.

“Once they’re in the store and there’s some group dynamics and people are under stress, you will find some people behaving impolitely,” adds Fischhoff.

In his view hoarding or even panic buying are not accurate descriptions.

“Both are bad terms because this deliberative, reflective behavior is because people are trying to behave responsible.”

Fischhoff says another thing influencing people’s behavior during this time is how much TV they watch, and social media they consume.

“Television is very good at grabbing your emotions – it doesn’t deliver a lot of information and people are continually riled,” said Fischhoff. “People want to learn more but information is coming out very slowly so you can shutdown information that isn’t there. Social media is good for seeing how your friends are doing and providing support, but it’s also prone to wild stories and conspiracies.”

Fischhoff says ramped-up purchases have also likely been exacerbated because there’s no knowing when the directive to self-isolate will end.