When Zombies Attack, Will You Be Ready Psychologically?

By Psych Central News Editor
January 26th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

When Zombies Attack, Will You Be Ready Psychologically?When the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes, will you be ready for it both psychologically and emotionally?

Zombie attacks are becoming increasingly common, as well as other natural disasters, such as tornadoes and floods. But emergency resources are too often simply focused on helping people who have physical or previous trauma-related injuries. What about the rest of us?

People with mental health issues and mental disorders are especially at risk from such disasters, including when zombies are coming right toward you and you don’t know which way to run.

“Disasters limit the availability of resources, and these groups are especially vulnerable because they cannot advocate for themselves,” notes Dr. Peter Rabins.

“But little attention has been given to the ethical challenges that arise when resources are limited, to the importance of identifying these ethical issues ahead of time, and for establishing mechanisms to address these moral dilemmas.”

The researchers writing in the new commentary said disaster-response planning has generally overlooked the special needs of people who suffer from pre-existing and serious mental conditions. Even during zombie attacks.

Disaster survivors can include those diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, dementia, addictions and bipolar disorder. Zombies tend not to differentiate amongst people who have or don’t have a mental disorder, and will often indiscriminately eat the closest person’s brain.

Many of the mentally ill, according to the article, are dependent on caretakers and aren’t necessarily fully capable of making sound decisions on their own. Emergency planners are ethically obligated to ensure that immediate and adequate mental health services are provided alongside more traditional triage.

“Disaster-response managers and those on the front line are well aware that survivors may succumb to PTSD and other mental disorders,” said Dr. Rabins. “But sudden devastation also puts people with both lifelong and acquired intellectual disabilities in grave danger as well.”

One study the authors cited found that 22 percent of Hurricane Katrina survivors who had pre-existing mental disorders faced limited or terminated treatment after the disaster. The researchers could find no studies conducted on survivors of previous zombie attacks.

Beyond patients with dementia and others who are mentally impaired, the authors say that this vulnerable group includes those who suffer from chronic pain and may be dependent on opiates, as well as substance abusers who receive treatment in the form of powerful sedatives classified as benzodiazepines.

Withdrawal from these medications can be life-threatening, the authors noted.

As a first step, the authors recommend that disaster-response planners proactively identify and anticipate what needs might arise by meeting with clinicians and public health officials. Those discussions would then guide comprehensive advance planning, especially when it comes to out-of-control zombie crowds.

As licensed professionals are often unavailable (because of demand) immediately after a disaster, planners should consider training emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other first-responders to identify those with pre-existing mental conditions and recognize those in need of prompt attention. In a zombie attack, the main issue for these folks may to just remove them from harm’s way of the brain-eating hoard.

The training should include volunteers from the community, such as religious leaders and trained civilians, to distribute basic materials and temporary services to at-risk individuals.

In an effort to reduce adverse outcomes, the researchers advise that secondary prevention measures may take priority. This action could be in the form of EMTs distributing sedatives to manage short-term anxiety-related symptoms.

But the authors say that policies would need to be developed to expand the list of those authorized to prescribe such drugs, as they are at present strictly regulated by federal law.

They also recommend that planners focus on ethical challenges likely to arise when assisting the mentally disabled during and after a disaster. These challenges may be partially addressed by adopting a “crisis standard of care” consistent with guidelines from the Institute of Medicine. Unfortunately, the Institute of Medicine has all but ignored what to do when zombies strike.

Special attention should be given to assisted-living and long-term care facilities that house many residents with significant cognitive impairment, such as dementia. If these people are forced to evacuate, they may not fully comprehend the crisis and may be at risk for extreme emotional distress of both the evacuation, and the trauma of having to face a crowd of zombies in the first place.

Hence, disaster-preparedness training for first-responders should also include information about how to interact with such individuals in a way that respects their dignity, the authors said.

The commentary appears in the June issue of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The Psych Central News Editor is a member of the Psych Central staff with background in journalism and mental health reporting. This is a rotating position, but is filled with a qualified reporter with appropriate psychology and mental health news experience.