The Psychology of Apathy, and Why it’s So Dangerous in a Pandemic

Marcia Sirota
5 min readDec 17, 2021

I was about to write this article on apathy, but then I couldn’t be bothered… Okay, bad joke.

But that’s the thing about apathy. It’s a state of indifference, regardless of what’s going on, and aside from procrastinating on blogging, it can lead to some rather unpleasant consequences.

While it’s not good to worry too much about everything, it’s equally problematic to care about nothing. Apathy is not a healthy alternative to being neurotic.

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What makes us apathetic?

Why do we become apathetic? Often, it happens when we’ve been hit with painful emotions so overwhelming that we completely shut down. Pain, hurt, and loss can be devastating and sometimes we feel like we can’t bear it, so we go numb. We stop caring about anything. It can be a form of depression.

And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole planet is in a state of emotional devastation. What with the sickness, the deaths, the loss of jobs, the over-work and burn-out, the restrictions, the isolation, the loss of control, the not knowing, the polarization, the confusion, the arguments… it’s overwhelming.

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Beyond COVID fatigue, into COVID apathy

And as we enter the fifth wave with the new Omicron variant, I’m noticing that many people are freaking out, but equally, a lot of people have become pretty darn apathetic about the whole thing. This latter group seems to have passed beyond COVID fatigue into COVID apathy, and they no longer care about whether or not they catch COVID. They don’t care about whether they give it to someone else.

I see them walking around the grocery store with their mask slung around their chin. I see them making plans to attend large gatherings in the coming days and weeks, or booking holidays away when studies show that two doses of the vaccine don’t give enough protection against the Omicron variant.

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This is the time to care more, not less

It’s understandable that these people are feeling apathetic. Being distressed and overwhelmed — and especially being traumatized by unrelenting stress — can lead to shutting down of our emotions. The problem is that this is the time to be more vigilant than ever — not more blasé.

Our health-care system is on the verge of collapse. Health-care workers are quitting in droves. The ones who remain are burnt-out, exhausted, and frankly, they might not last much longer. Who will care for the sick when hospitals are operating with a skeleton staff?

With all the closures of hospital departments and the focus on COVID, cancers have not been detected over the past two years — so much so that people are coming in with terminal disease at the time of their diagnosis — something that oncologists haven’t seen in their entire careers.

Of course, the longer the pandemic rages, the worse it will be for the economy. Food prices are sky-rocketing and between job losses and supply chain issues causing price hikes, more and more people are turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families — almost double the pre-pandemic numbers.

Mental health is in a crisis of epic proportions, with out-of-control rates of mood disorders, substance abuse, suicide, and spousal and child abuse. Children, teens, and young adults are struggling to cope and mental health professionals are overwhelmed by the demand.

The longer the pandemic goes on, the more our mental health deteriorates, and one of the symptoms of a mental health problem is inappropriate apathy — not caring at all when we need to care a lot.

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Apathy creates a dangerous domino effect

Our apathy is dangerous, as it creates a domino effect. Every action we take — or lack of action — affects something else, and things can go from bad to worse, very quickly. As the pandemic persists, our apathy can cause the infection rate to spike, resulting in our lives becoming more and more difficult.

We need to break out of this state of apathy and see that our actions have wide-ranging repercussions. As upset and overwhelmed as we are, this is the time for us to care more, not less. Our actual survival depends on it.

If you’re feeling so apathetic these days that you intend to carry on as though life were back to normal, and if conversations with your friends and family haven’t helped you to care more, then it might be a good idea to speak with a mental health professional. You might be a little bit depressed, and therapy and/or medications could be just the thing you need, right now.

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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series