October 28: A Virtual Conversation with Jessica Wapner

A Virtual Conversation with Jessica Wapner, Author of

Wall Disease: The Psychological Toll of Living Up Against A Border

Wednesday, October 28, 7 pm ET on Zoom

Today, there are at least seventy border walls: from the US-Mexico border to the 17,000 miles of barbed wire that wall off Bangladesh from India, as well as the five-layer fence between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Border walls protect us, the argument goes, because they keep danger out. But what if the walls themselves endanger everyone who lives near them–on both sides?

On Wednesday, October 28, Science Writers in New York invites you to join us on Zoom for a conversation with SWINY co-chair David Levine (@dlloydlevine) and freelance journalist Jessica Wapner, author of Wall Disease: The Psychological Toll of Living Up Against a Border (published October 6).

In her thoroughly reported, eye-opening work, science journalist Jessica Wapner reveals the unforeseen mental health effects of security walls–including depression and anxiety, despondence, excitability, suicidal ideation, paranoia, and more.

East Germans were the first to give the crisis a name: Mauerkrankheit, or “wall disease.” The afflicted—everyday citizens living on both sides of the Berlin Wall—displayed some combination of depression, anxiety, excitability, suicidal ideation, and paranoia. The Berlin Wall is no more, but today there are at least 70 policed borders like it. What are they doing to our minds? 

Wall Disease follows a trail of psychological harm around the world. In Brownsville, Texas, the hotly contested US-Mexico border wall instills more feelings of fear than of safety. And in Eastern Europe, a Georgian grandfather pines for his homeland—cut off from his daughters, his baker, and his bank by the arbitrary path of a razor-wire fence built in 2013. Even in borderlands riven by conflict, the same walls that once offered relief become enduring reminders of trauma and helplessness. 

Jessica Wapner is a freelance science journalist with more than a decade of experience writing and editing stories for popular and specialty magazines. Her work is published in the New Yorker, Wired, New York Times, Medium, Discover, Popular Science, Self, Scientific American, New York, The Atlantic, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, AARP, Science, and elsewhere. Previously she was the science editor for Newsweek.

She is also the cohost, with Elle Fanning, of the forthcoming podcast series One Click, produced by Cadence13.

Jessica’s stories span the most technical areas of biomedicine to the most pressing socioeconomic issues driving health. She also covered technology, parenting, the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, risk taking, and more. She has reported from across the globe and across the country, with a dedication to finding the human story inside every science story. 

Her first book, The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Life-Saving Treatment, was named a top-ten nonfiction book by the Wall Street Journal and has been translated into Japanese. Read more about the book along with reviews here

Read her article in The New Yorker, “Do Walls Change How We Think?”

Do you have a question for Jessica Wapner you would like answered? Submit it here.

Wednesday, October 28
7 to 8 pm ET


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