Sarb Johal

Sarb Johal is a clinical and health psychologist with too many interests for the time he has available. He has looked at cloning as a solution but is yet to find a worthy collaborator. One of his roles is as Associate Professor in Disaster Mental Health in the School of Psychology, Massey University. Other hats include; host and producer of the Who cares? What’s the point? podcast, and regular contributor as a parenting commentator on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon.

Supermarket queues: is this really panic buying? - The Psychology Report

Aug 12, 2020

You may have heard that there were queues at the supermarket last night, and again this morning. This will probably carry on for a while, even though it’s clear that supermarkets and other essential outlets and services will remain open and stocked throughout Alert Level 3 (and Alert Level 4, should it be required). So why did people flock to the supermarkets when the Alert Level change announcement was made? Was it really ‘panic-buying’? If we take a moment to think through the drivers of behaviour like this, then we can see that yes, anxiety might be one reason why people go to the shops, but it’s one of many. And also, that this anxiety might be fuelled in several different ways. Once we understand this, then we can take a step back to look at our own … Read More

COVID-19: Life’s stresses just as important as health and economics - The Psychology Report

Mar 17, 2020

When we talk about disasters or a crisis, we often focus on the disruption and stress caused by the index event or occurrence itself. In the case of Covid-19, it’s the health impact of the virus on people and communities. However, secondary stressors are circumstances, events or policies that are indirectly related to or are a consequence of an emergency event, which result in emotional strain among affected individuals and make it more difficult for them to return to what is perceived as normality. Examples of secondary stressors include ongoing financial strain, conflict in families and couple relationships, job insecurity and/or loss. In this case, policies designed to contain the outbreak may have larger social and psychological consequences than the virus itself – at least at this stage. In his psychosocial recovery briefing paper following the earthquakes … Read More

If your comms message is suboptimal, change it - The Psychology Report

Mar 16, 2020

I wanted to highlight two recent changes in communications messaging from the Ministry of Health in the last few days, because I think they are good examples of what we need to focus on if we want to get the bigger picture of good messaging right in these times of Covid19. The Ministry of Health has changed its messaging around self-isolation to Stay at Home. I wrote on March 12 about how the UK Government had changed their messaging in this way because focus group testing revealed that Stay at Home had more impact in terms of the behaviour they were seeking to influence. But they haven’t tried to dissociate themselves from the term ‘self-isolation’, trying to pretend that it never happened. That would only lead to more confusion. Instead, they have included the term in … Read More

Wellington, we have a problem… - The Psychology Report

Mar 12, 2020

It’s March 12. COVID19 is making its way around Europe. It has established footholds in the USA. Although some countries seem to have been largely successful in containing the spread of the virus, I think with the global declaration of pandemic by the WHO today has finally named the elephant in the room, the world’s worst kept secret. But it’s out there now. So, what next? Use Clinical Observation Patterns More In countries that are preparing for a wave in cases, I think it’s important to take the hint from patterns of clinical observations, as well as data from testing results. The problem with waiting for this testing data to make decisions, is that this virus spreads quickly. By the time you have the data and gone through the processes necessary to make the decision, the situation … Read More

Why do people criticise emergency services and their decisions following a disaster? - The Psychology Report

Dec 16, 2019

Why have we seen such criticisms of the emergency response and the decision to delay recovery rather than take immediate action? Why do some people think they can make better decisions that the Police and other authorities? To understand this better, we need to think about how and why we might feel the need to make decisions for other people. We have a fairly good understanding about how we make decisions for ourselves. However, when making decisions for other people, particularly where circumstances are risky, we know less about how this is done. However, the sorts of situations where people make decisions for others can be grouped into three types: those in which someone requests that the decision is made for them; those in which the decision is imposed on them; and those in which their condition or … Read More

How to support after the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption - The Psychology Report

Dec 12, 2019

As details emerge about what unfolded on Whakaari / White Island two days ago, my thoughts go out to all the families affected by this terrible event. My thoughts are also with the first responders who worked in perilous circumstances to assist and protect those affected. Both local and wider international communities are affected, and will continue to be affected as the facts of the event are revealed and the repercussions of loss, understanding, and meaning-making extend out into the future. When thinking about how to deal with the consequences of such a tragic event, it’s important to understand what we have learned already about how such events affect people, and how to help. Though each event brings its own challenges and circumstances, there is knowledge that can be applied effectively to assist when one feels … Read More

After Christchurch: Why rituals are important - The Psychology Report

Mar 22, 2019

Today marks one week since the tragic events of 15 March 2019. As we remember those who were killed and injured, those whose lives were changed forever on that day, I thought I would post a few responses to things that people have been asking me about, either on email, in person or through media requests.   What happens if you’ve been affected by the earthquakes and now this? For many people, who have been affected by the earthquakes, and have now been involved in this event in some shape or form, they may experience some feelings and thoughts that might be troubling for them. In the outer layer of people affected, let’s say of people who struggled through but survived the impacts of the earthquakes and who now find themselves living in a city full of sirens, emergency … Read More

After Christchurch: What to do when our protective bubble has burst and why - The Psychology Report

Mar 20, 2019

We have a window of time in which we can make profound changes in New Zealand so that nothing like the Christchurch attacks on 15 March 2019 can happen again. But there is a high risk that this window is going to close soon so we need to move quickly. And it will take profound, coherent,  and courageous leadership to do so. Let me explain why. When we go about our everyday lives we are, for most of the time, able to stay on a pretty even keel. This stability in our mental state, this freedom from anxiety about what might happen next, or what might be around the next corner in life, this stable sense of continuity and order helps us to give meaning to our lives that the world is a safe and stable place: that it … Read More

After Christchurch: what you might be feeling and why - The Psychology Report

Mar 16, 2019

Today, I wanted to talk about how some reactions we might be feeling in the next few days as a result of the Christchurch terror attack can feel quite overwhelming and complicated. I wanted to talk about how this can be really uncomfortable, but quite common after large-scale events like this. I’ve recorded this in this video below, but you can read on too. Let me start with outlining some of the reactions people might be experiencing now or in the near future. If you’re not experiencing these, don’t worry – I’m just describing the sorts of things that the research says that people have reported. In general, the short-term reactions include experiences like shock, disbelief, numbness, disorientation and uncertainty about what the future will bring. Struggling with identity In particular, what I am noticing is an emerging struggle … Read More

Mental health in public life: Is the experience of politicians and how we make policy intertwined? - The Psychology Report

Sep 03, 2018

Many societies are experiencing significant increases in those reporting mental health difficulties and illnesses, but face systemic obstacles in helping their communities’ to deal with these problems. The WHO report on Mental health: New Understandings, New Hope identified mental health as possibly posing the most difficult and acute health care challenge of the twenty-first century. The report goes on to outline two major obstacles in delivering effective prevention and treatment: (1) a prevalent and negative social stigma around mental health in many countries (and New Zealand is no exception to this), and (2) under-funding and under-ambition in relation to mental health policies. It has been argued by some (e.g. Finder, Weinberg and Geddes, 2016) that these two obstacles may be inter-related because of the existence of a dominant and systemic political culture that makes it very difficult for politicians to … Read More