Stress and Depression in the Zombie Apocalypse
By Dave Lund author of the Winchester Undead series
In any high stress environment the body and mind can only function for so long before mistakes happen, before chemical changes in the body and mind occur and before the chance of depression creeps into the picture.
With the natural fight or flight response, moments of adrenaline, a rollercoaster of chemical releases in the body, ups and downs that are high stress then the letdown after the adrenaline fades, the body’s meager attempt to protect its self. Combat veterans, of whom I am not, have spoken to the idea that once you live in an environment where people are shooting back at you, the normal world feels flat.
The fight or flight response is as old as life on Earth, animals, people, experience similar reactions. The body identifies an immediate threat, blood pulls into the body, senses grow highly attuned to the surrounding environment, heart rate raises, muscles tense and a snap decision to run for your life or to turn and fight happens. Which one of the two responses depends a lot on the stimulus, but also depends on training and conditioning.
Military men and women, law enforcement, often turn to the threat to engage, to fight with every intention on overcoming the threat. Part of that is due to the personalities drawn to such professions, but much of it is due to training and mental conditioning. Even with all the training and the mental conditioning, the body’s response is still occurring; they are just controlling what they do with the response. The chemical response in the body can’t be controlled, it is a natural function and the end of that response is also a natural function.
Just recently research is being spent in identifying and treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. With the PTSD the research is still very new, but a few things have been observed. First the disorder can happen from a single high stress traumatic event or it can occur from long term exposure to high stress over time. Regardless as to why it occurs, sociality we are starting to understand that it does occur. We are also beginning to understand that the depression that follows can be cripplingly severe. The sad statistic being that in the US we average twenty two active or veteran service men and women who die daily from suicide.
In a realistic sense, if modern society ceased to function due to any number of reasons and we found ourselves in a now post-apocalyptic society, regardless as to the presence of the undead or not, the situation as a whole could be considered high stress. Basic daily functions that most of modern society do not have to immediately concern themselves with, water, food and shelter, are no on the forefront of their minds and not easily solved. Our modern society has created safety nets for such situations, government agencies and non-government agencies (NGA) respond with rescues from dangerous areas, temporary shelters, food, water, health care, treatment and even at times some sort of entertainment to help ease the traumatic event. The military does the same for its members, the food, water and shelter being taken care of logistically, USO tours, music, games, movies, many things are attempted to be given to help give an emotional outlet, a moment of rest to the fighting men and women.
With the collapse of society in a post-apocalyptic event, we have to also think that not only are the government agencies going to fail, but the NGAs will as well. I knew a police chief who, to my initial surprise and then understanding, kept a secret list of officers who worked for his department. The list defined who he believed would respond to work as a police officer during a catastrophic event and those who would not, opting to stay home to protect and provide for their families. He estimated that only 20-25% of the sworn officers of the department would respond to work, the rest having families and children, putting them in front of their sworn duty. Once past the initial shock of the revelation, it made sense. People, when presented with the fight or flight response on a large scale, will evaluate what is the most important aspects of their lives. For many their families top that list.
So without any NGA response and no response or a limited response from the government, people will be left to fend for themselves. Having seen behind the curtain into the dark nature of society, I will warn that the have not’s, the not prepared, will immediately turn to the prepared for help either by asking or by force. If after asking they’re not given a handout, force is often the immediate secondary response.
That is a high stress environment. Some are conditioned to it, most are not. As time marches forward, dieses, accident and violence will kill some of the population (mostly dieses due to sanitary concerns), but eventually even in the post-apocalyptic world, a routine will be found by the survivors. In that routine, after the end of the stress, after the adrenaline fades, PTSD quickly sets in, depression following.
Modern medicine’s response is therapy and medication. The medication will be non-existent or only available bartering with people who already looted pharmacies. Therapy will consist of your fellow survivors, long gone are the comfortable couches and dim rooms of the office of a licensed therapist.
With the routine, with the stark reality of the new world thrown asunder, no hope to be seen, no help to be had, I believe that suicide will become the number one killer, surpassing dieses with-in a year of the beginning of the end of the world.
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