Whether you have tested positive for Covid-19, suffered through the “mild” symptoms, or are still just waiting to be infected, the terminal disease has caused a universal symptom. The virus has negatively impacted everyone’s mental health. To varying degrees, we all have experienced some form of a meltdown. The cases that have played out publicly have been comical, but the silent majority of mental breaks have been tragic.
Jeffrey Toobin, a prominent writer and CNN chief legal analyst dooked away not just his seven-figure income but his dignity when he introduced his fellow Zoom callers to his “redneck friend.” Suffering varying degrees of embarrassment by failing to mute yourself is probably a universal experience at this point. But how do you not know your still on camera when you are looking at yourself? Hard to confuse a computer screen with a mirror.
Speaking of unmuting, Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael Loconto was forced to resign after improperly mocking Asian speakers on a public Zoom school committee meeting. After the moderator announced the names of the speakers, Loconto inexplicably blurted out, “That was like Shania, Shanaya, Shanay-nay, and Boo Boo, and David, right?”
Politicians have been rendered mentally deficient by the virus as well. In a brilliant overlooked editorial in the October New England Journal of Medicine, the editors observed, “[Our Leaders] have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.” Massachusetts’ Governor Baker has been a good example.
With infections again on the rise and community spread beginning, the Governor introduced a curfew. With nowhere to go at night, curfews are ineffective and may create increased risk. Massachusetts’ test positivity rate then began to double every two weeks. With average daytime temperatures around 38 degrees and dropping, the Governor next limited outdoor gatherings. Finally, he reduced the restaurant and gym capacity from 50 to 40 percent. Which only reduces a patrons’ risk by less than 1 percent. The virus is now uncontainable in Massachusetts.
The lack of logic is not limited to failing to “stop the spread” the converse has proven true as well. As any infection poses a risk, hospitals by definition are well-controlled environments. They pose less risk than department stores and supermarkets. Yet Southcoast Hospital in New Bedford and Fall River prevents loved ones from visiting those dying of the disease, indirectly extending the virus’ suffering.
For some, the adverse effects have been subtle, but the failure to recognize the negative impact has been fatal. The overall mortality rate has increased far beyond the additional 293,000 deaths recorded to date for COVID. In October, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) published a study concluding that in addition to the 200,000 COVID-related deaths at that time, the United States had suffered an additional 100,000 deaths that were indirectly related and would not have occurred but for the virus. The CDC also prophesized that the death toll would see an inexorable climb if the country did not put sufficient policies into place. As the President continues to hold almost nightly superspreader events in the form of White House Christmas parties, he apparently missed that briefing.
The tough times have only served as a nudge off the ledge for those already tortured souls. Rates of suicide, addiction, and overdose have all increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. The former Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh by all counts a profoundly social creature prior to the pandemic took to mixing Fernet, nitrous oxide, and his obsession with fire. Even if you don’t know what happened you can guess the result.
Domestic violence and child abuse, the vast majority of which goes unreported, has still increased statistically. As Congress quibbles over whether to give those in need what will surely be inadequate financial resources, the government is ignoring the mental unraveling of the country’s fabric, its people. The final fourth wave of COVID will be the psychological undoing of an entire nation.
Some have been fortunate to manage the disease’s adverse psychological effects. This escape has been obtained mainly through denial—the only rational explanation for why Christmas lights appeared the day after Halloween this year. Any aspiring social worker will tell you denial while perhaps a short term fix is never a workable solution. What happens when December 26th comes? Realizing we have not seen the worst of COVID, and we are likely only halfway through this challenge?
Although an oversimplification, depression is caused by fear. Fear often results from unrealistic and, therefore, unmet expectations. “Hope (not to be confused with faith) and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there is one, there is the other. Hope and fear come from the feeling we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty.” Now more than ever, you need to renounce hope. Renounce the hope that you or your world could be better. The means to accomplish this is mindfulness, being present, not disassociating physically or mentally from what’s happening at the moment. “If hope and fear are two sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence.” Once you can be present, you can relax with the groundlessness of your situation. This is the first step on the path.” And we still have a long road ahead.
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