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COVID-19: fear and anxiety

Making sense of the uncertainty

People are unsettled by COVID-19. We’re seeing pictures of empty shelves in shops across Australia and reading reports of chaos and social shutdowns from Europe and the US. What's going on?

We have some of the best minds in the country here at the University of Sydney. We want to share their insights and expertise and help answer some of the common questions.

Is everyone freaking out, or is this an appropriate response to an extraordinary situation? What drives unsettling human behaviour, like panic buying? What’s the social and mental health impact of this time?

The speakers

Nick is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and director of the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre, and the Sydney Centre for Language Research. He is head of the Sydney Initiative for Truth (SIFT). His research on language, culture, cognition and social life is based on long term field work in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos.

His recent books include Natural Causes of LanguageDistributed Agency, and How We Talk. Nick has published widely in linguistics, anthropology, and cognitive science venues, and has written for the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, the Wall Street Journal, and Science. He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Royal Society of New South Wales, and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Ian is Co-Director, Health and Policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. He is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow (2013-2017 and 2018-22), having previously been one of the inaugural NHMRC Australian Fellows (2008-12). He was an inaugural Commissioner on Australia’s National Mental Health Commission (2012-18) overseeing enhanced accountability for mental health reform and suicide prevention.

He is an internationally renowned researcher in clinical psychiatry, with particular reference to medical aspects of common mood disorders, depression and bipolar disorder in young people, early intervention, use of new and emerging technologies and suicide prevention.

Claire is a long-standing academic member of the Centre for Values, Ethics and Law in Medicine and coordinator of the Health Humanities Pathway within the Sydney Bioethics Program.

Claire's research focuses on four areas of expertise: arts and health, with a particular focus on community-based health initiatives and research; experiences of medicine and health care; politics, ethics and history of infection control; and medical humanities and health humanities more generally. She has published widely in the literature including 3 books, 13 book chapters and 39 peer-reviewed journal articles. Most of her work is now available open access via the Sydney eScholarship Repository.

Julie is a professor and social scientist in the Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sydney. Julie is a public health researcher focusing on vaccination and infectious disease risk communication. She has a background in public health, nursing and midwifery.

Julie is a visiting professorial fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance and advisor to the World Health Organization. She was named overall and global category winner of the 2019 Australian Financial Review 100 Woman of Influence; won the Public Health Impact Award 2019 and the Sax Institute Research Action Award in 2015.

Agnieszka is at the forefront of cross-disciplinary scholarship on decision-making. Her research combines theory and methodology from economics, psychology, and neuroscience for a better understanding of how people decide, why they sometimes make seemingly wrong decisions, and how to make them better choosers.

Since arriving in Australia in 2013, Agnieszka has been awarded over 33 million in nationally competitive grants as a Chief Investigator, including Centre of Excellence, DECRA, Discovery, Linkage grants.

Annamarie is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. She is internationally known as a scholar in feminist, lesbian/gay and queer studies. She is the author of four scholarly monographs, most recently Orgasmology, a critical consideration of orgasm across the long twentieth century. 

Annamarie is also an award-winning novelist. Her last novel, Slow Water, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and won the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.


Keen for deeper insights? 

Listen to our To the point feature on the Sydney Ideas podcast, where we take a short, focused look at an issue.

Ian Hickie on the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in Australia

Access the transcript (pdf, 159.8 KB)

Nick Enfield on language and cognition in the time of COVID-19

Access the transcript (pdf, 146.6 KB)

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