Read any serious newspaper and you will hear stories of how the pandemic is affecting lives to the extent that you could believe quite rightly that life will never be the same again. People are losing their lives, their livelihoods, their businesses, their finances and their sense of purpose. The early days of lockdown where people stated that they might actually enjoy being isolated in their house with loved ones, doing projects and learning new skills have been replaced with tedium, worry and anxiety about the future. The prospect of a second lockdown in autumn is already being discussed in the UK and France. It seems the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future and no government can really say they have a coherent, sustainable policy to counter it.
Many reliable media outlets are reporting on the increases of most things negative, including child and domestic abuse, since the start of the pandemic but especially true if my clients are anything to go by, is that depression, anxiety and basic existential fears are increasing beyond belief. Under normal circumstances, the advice might be to not concentrate on anything that is out of your sphere of influence. While a pandemic might come under that category, it is not something we can readily ignore as we try to go about our lives.
Maurice Fava, psychiatrist-in-chief, within the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, is not surprised by the correlation between mental health conditions and COVID-19. According to Dr. Fava, there are various factors related to COVID-19 that contribute to the increase in depression rates, including:
- Trauma from widespread disease
- Grief over losses of life
- Fear of getting sick
- Unprecedented physical distancing
- Financial concerns, including unemployment and housing insecurity
- Loss of community
- Reduced access to caregivers
However, we cannot ignore the social aspects of the issue. Many people are suffering because they feel isolated from friends and family, especially those who live a good distance away. People who rely on social contact are finding life difficult and no amount of ‘zoom’ activities change the fact that you are still restricted.
For me, I have witnessed and heard of something that has developed to a greater extent over the last six months. The world seems divided into camps or tribes who view the other group suspiciously. Young versus old, mask wearers against non mask wearers, those working from home against those in the office. Those working against those on furlough. While divisions have always been there in any society, they are now more pronounced and visible in a way that was not present before. One might say that the rise of populist governments and policies, special events like Brexit in the UK ( where families and relationships broke up over whether to remain in the EU or leave) or the migrant crisis in Europe that caused a lot of these divisions were already on the march long before Covid and the lockdown, but I feel they have been made worse by the virus. The best and worst of human nature is now on display for all to see.
Nowhere on the planet is this more evident at present than in the US. Most of my clients are more worried about the social and political situation than they are about the virus. It does seem that America is heading back to its old Wild West era where the law of the gun determined who lived and died. Social and racial tensions are on fire and any decent human being will have been shocked at videos of unarmed citizens being murdered and shot by people employed to “serve and protect”. Looking from Europe, I have always considered a lot of Americans as trigger-happy and a bit gung-ho where weapons are concerned. The amount of mass shootings and random killings might attest to that but to see armed gangs with assault rifles confronting protesters is beyond belief for someone living in a country where firearms are not readily available and are extremely difficult to purchase.
We must ask the question as to why America seems intent on destroying itself. We cannot look further than the political situation there that is worrying a lot of well- intentioned people. With a two party system, there is always a polarization of views in American politics but this time round that polarizing is much worse. The incumbent President is a love-hate figure based on clear divisions between Democrats and (some) Republicans. The evidence that presents itself will tell most people that he is not up to the job and uses it to boost his own self-image. Not a good base for a leader. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground. Many people I speak to in Europe state that only in the US could an actor or reality tv personality become leader of the free world. A lot of my clients are worrying about the consequences of this continuing for another four years which I believe is making the tensions around Covid much worse.
Luckily for most people in the world, a bad leader will only last four years. The effects of the virus will change our lives completely. All we can do, is concentrate on us individually as to what we need to get through the current crisis, whatever that crisis might be for us on a personal basis.