Published on Aug 03, 2021

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. And you're watching Coronavirus in Context. Have you been invited out by a friend to go to a restaurant inside, and you don't quite feel it's time to go? Or maybe you're the one inviting everyone out to kind of that pre-pandemic normal. And you seem to be getting dirty looks.

Maybe you're a parent, and you feel your child needs to be vaccinated. But your spouse doesn't feel the same way. How do you handle these issues? So to help provide some insights, I've asked someone you all know, Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil, thanks for joining me. It's nice to see you again.

PHIL MCGRAW: It's good to see you. Thanks for talking to me again.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to start off with this issue of vaccine hesitancy. And we have to recognize that the hesitancy is also in many families. Some members are getting vaccinated. Others aren't. One spouse thinks it's a good idea. The other doesn't.

Do you not bring it up at the dinner table? Or do you say, hey, if I want to stay safe, I've got to get everyone around me vaccinated? So I might need to convince them. That can create some crazy family dynamics. What do you advise, Dr. Phil?

PHIL MCGRAW: Whether it's at the dinner table or you call an actual meeting, set aside a time to talk about it, I do think it needs to be met head on. And as in any disagreement that you have in the family, I think it's really important that you start out with the goal to be understood, to be heard, not necessarily to be agreed with.

Because that's where you set up the conflict where people bow their neck and start to get defensive and resistant. Because if you instead say, listen, what I want you to do is hear me out. I want you to understand my point of view. And then you can make up your own mind about what you want to do, oftentimes you'll get a much better audience that way than if you're really trying to overwhelm somebody.

Because right now, doctor, I think we're up against confirmation bias here. And just to explain to people that may not be totally familiar with the term, with confirmation bias, it obviously means that we hear only those things that confirm what we already believe. But what most people don't understand is that with confirmation bias, when you get information that's contrary to your belief, the psychological tendency is it deepens your belief.

You get contrary information. It deepens your belief. It doesn't cause you to move your position. So rather than get into a problem of butting heads, you need to have a discussion about it where you can have an exchange of ideas and talk about the science associated with it instead of your position, your opinion.

JOHN WHYTE: And let's be real practical, too. Realistically, have that meeting. You're not going to convince someone who's been hesitant this long. So do you keep trying? When do you say, you know what? I'm just going to give up. And everyone's going to have to live their lives a little differently.

Is it two times? Is it five times? I know there's not a set number. But we shouldn't expect to be able to convince them after one time. How many times do we try?

PHIL MCGRAW: Well, generally, you have to read the situation. And if there is an open dialogue, if there's a sharing of beliefs, if you get to the point where it's just because I said so, at that point you're talking to yourself. But if you're actually having an open exchange of ideas, that means the topic is still open. And you can really-- I believe in the principle of reciprocity.

And if you start out by saying, listen, I don't have all the answers here. And I'm not pretending that I do. But what I want to share with you are some things that I've discovered that might be helpful to you. So let me share those things with you. And I'm going to invite you to share with me the things that you've discovered that have supported the position you've taken. And let's share that. And maybe between us, we might convince one another, as long as you've got that exchange of ideas, then you do have a dialogue. And it's worth continuing the exchange of ideas.

But when you get to the point where, well, just because, that's why, at that point you're through talking. But if you can keep the channel open with exchange of information, then you've got a chance. But I don't think you want to give up until you get to the just crossed arms and because.

And I say that because this is a very important position. If I'm looking at the data right now, this is not a close call. If you look at the percentage of people that are getting sick, hospitalized, or dying right now, the percentage of people that are not vaccinated make up the vast majority of those people. We need to get vaccinated here. I'm sorry. We just need to get vaccinated.

JOHN WHYTE: It's 99% of cases occur in the unvaccinated. Let's talk about kids, Dr. Phil, because it's different if you and I as adults are making decisions about ourselves. It's different when we're making decisions about our kids.

And we recently covered a story at WebMD where there's this discordance between parents. One parent feels it's OK to vaccinate and feels it's necessary to vaccinate a 14-year-old. And the other parent says, hey, no way. I want to wait. How do you manage that? And then how does divorce factor into that when the parents are separated?

PHIL MCGRAW: Well, I actually read that story. And I thought it was a very important story that you guys did on that. And thank you for doing it because I thought you brought up some very important points there. And I encourage everyone to read that article because it's very thought-provoking and also has some very good action steps in it.

What I want to add to that article is number one, I think it's very important that you keep the government out of your family business if you possibly can. And by that, I mean you don't want to invite the court, the family court, a judge into your family if you can discuss these things between yourselves and come to some kind of resolution.

Because if you say, well, we'll just let the court decide, you have no idea how much control you're giving up. You have no idea how somebody is going to decide or what they're going to say. You're much better off if the two of you can sit down as adults and have the kind of exchange that you and I just talked about and come to some kind of reasonable agreement about your child.

Now, if you have a divorce decree, you have to follow it. But it also comes down to just human decency. Both of you are invested in this child. And even if you have the custodial right or responsibility to make medical decisions, you still have the moral imperative to inform the other parent and get their input. I mean, that's just common sense.

But I think it's really important that we continue to default to the science here. This is not something that we need to be depending on what some celebrity says, what some politician says. It doesn't matter. What you need to look at is the science. The numbers don't lie here. These are matters of fact, not conjecture. And I think we have to default to that every single time.

And that doesn't mean that the science doesn't change across time. It's evolving, and it's developing. But the trend doesn't change. The trend is get vaccinated.

JOHN WHYTE: Now I want to ask you about dealing with friends and colleagues. So say a friend invites you out to dinner. And people are rightfully concerned about the variant. And maybe you're just not ready to go inside to a restaurant.

Do you tell them that? Or do you just make up an excuse? Isn't it easier to just say, oh, hey, I'm busy. I'll get back to you. Do you really want to open up that whole discussion around whether it's safe to go in a restaurant? What are you suggesting people do, Phil?

PHIL MCGRAW: I think they be transparent about this because, look, there's no shame in this at all. Look, I think it's important that we just resolve that we're going to meet people where they are and not expect them to meet us where we are. If we're OK with going to a restaurant, then fine. But if they're not, then we need to respect that and have a plan B.

If I call you and say, John, let's go to a restaurant and plan out what we're going to do in our next conversation, and you say, you know, I'm not real comfortable with this variant flying around right now, then my thought should be that what I really value is our time together, our exchange of information. And it doesn't really matter where it takes place.

And if I really am interested in my communication with you, the setting is not so important. I should be focused on that, not on the setting. And I should meet you where you are. And if right now you have anxiety about it, you may have a secondary condition that I don't know about where you're immune compromised or something. So you're on a different sensitivity level than I might be. Then OK, let's just be upfront about it.

JOHN WHYTE: But Dr. Phil, is it TMI, Too Much Information? Wouldn't it just be easier if people said, oh, hey, I'm busy, or no? You feel we should have that discussion because that might help with the overall public health messaging.

PHIL MCGRAW: I think it is important to be transparent. But you raise a good point, doctor. I don't think you have to tell everybody your business. I think you can just say, you know what? I'm really not comfortable with that right now for reasons that I'm not going to bore you with. But can we look at an alternative plan? Could we meet outside? Could we do something different because I think we would have a more productive meeting right now?

I don't think you need to be shamed because you're not comfortable going in there. But you also don't need to tell them that you have some kind of congestive disorder or whatever. You don't have to disclose that. But you can say, for reasons I won't bore you with, I'm not comfortable in that setting right now. So can you respect that? And let's do it this way or that way.

So I wouldn't feel guilty about it. I wouldn't feel like I need to give you my entire medical file. But I would claim my right to do it the way I want to do it.

JOHN WHYTE: And we've learned who our friends are during this COVID pandemic as we've been locked down, haven't we?

PHIL MCGRAW: Oh, yes we have. And I think it's important that we look-- I mentioned earlier the principle of reciprocity. I think you get what you give. I really do. I think if you lead with transparency, you're likely to get transparency.

So if you are talking to somebody about the level of comfort or going to a restaurant or not going to a restaurant or whatever, and you lead with, hey, I've really been on the fence about this. I've gone back and forth. And I'm just now getting to where I kind of feel OK about this. So I'm wondering-- and maybe you don't, which would be absolutely OK. But I just kind of crossed that line. So tell me where you are. I'm asking. There's no judgment or expectation.

But I think the principle of reciprocity-- you get what you give. You pass somebody in a mall, and you say, how are you doing? And they say, fine, how about you, what are you likely to say? Fine. You're going to give what you got.

If you say, how are you doing? And they say, oh, boy, I've had a rough week. How about you, you might respond, yeah, it has been a rough week. You get what you give. And so I think if you engage people in a way that calls for some transparency, they'll probably give you what you gave them.

JOHN WHYTE: Something you and I have had an opportunity to talk about over the past 16 months are the mental health aspects of the pandemic. And we know we're going to get past this pandemic. When? We're still not completely sure. But we're going to have a mental health pandemic. We're having it now. That's going to continue long beyond this infectious disease pandemic.

So Dr. Phil, how do we help folks recognize maybe they're suffering from PTSD from the lockdowns? And they're just not ready. They're incapable of returning to some sense of normalcy. What advice do you have for viewers, for listeners about addressing those mental health aspects?

PHIL MCGRAW: Well, I think the first thing, Dr. Whyte, is to know what the warning signs are so you don't miss that this is not just normal ups and downs. Because we're already seeing, as you know, a very high incidence of PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

And so to run through a quick list of these things, if you're finding yourself detaching from things that you ordinarily would be passionately involved in, if you're having intrusive memories, flashbacks to things that were really traumatic for you. Certainly if you've been hospitalized or if you were on a ventilator or if you were really ill or someone close to you was really ill in a life-threatening sort of way, and those things are coming back to you.

If you're having nightmares. If you find yourself avoiding anything that might trigger or remind you of those things. If you're experiencing insomnia. If you're really quick to anger. If you're having memory loss. If you find yourself really edgy, jumpy, easily startled, negative thoughts. If you're drinking more than you used to, so you're kind of self-medicating.

Any of those things-- it doesn't have to be all of them. It can be a combination of those things. You need to really ask yourself, do I need to get some help here? Do I at least need to go-- maybe you start with your general practitioner, your family doctor. And ask them, does this seem to reach a critical mass that I need to get some help with it?

Because you don't worry about a stigma here. There is help for this. It can get better. But it's not going to magically go away with time. If you've gotten caught in this trap, it's OK to ask for some help because people will understand. It's very explainable as to why you would be there.

I would ask myself not why someone would be in that condition, but why not, given all of the trauma that we've been through and all the fear of the unknown and the virus and the financial pressures and everything that's gone on. There's just been a lot of stress. So I think you have to know what those warning signs are, the red flags are. Watch for them.

And if they're there, say, you know what? I need to get some help with this. Maybe that's short-term medication. Maybe it's some short-term therapy. Maybe it's a group that's supportive. There are all kinds of help that's available. And I don't want to do a shameless plug here, but WebMD has some amazingly good information about that that people can reference that will guide them and walk them through how to get to the help, how to recognize and then get to the help about this.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, thank you for saying that. And as you point out, it's OK not to be OK. And there are effective therapies out there.

Dr. Phil, as always, I want to thank you for taking the time today to share your insights. You always give us practical advice on how we deal with these everyday situations. And we know there is going to be a lot of discord over the next few months as we try to get through this potential surge in some areas of the country. So thank you, Dr. Phil.

PHIL MCGRAW: Well, thank you for talking about this. We don't want to go through all of this and then stumble on the 1-yard line. Let's stay the course these final stages of this and make sure we get across the goal line with this. We've come all this way. Let's be sure we are responsible in these final steps.

JOHN WHYTE: I like that. We're at the 1-yard line. Thanks.

PHIL MCGRAW: Thank you.