COVID-19, Mental Health and the Struggle To Stay Positive During Difficult Times
Living through a pandemic is an eye opening experience. Until recently, most people have only encountered pandemics in the history books. The advent of covid-19 changed that fact for countless people all over the world. One of the most interesting aspects of this has been how our modern perspective adds insight to the experience. Records of past pandemics have focused almost entirely on the physical aspect of a health crisis. We don’t see much discussion over the psychological ramifications of such difficult events.
Of course it’s understandable that our ancestors didn’t discuss the psychology of a health pandemic. The entire concept of mental health wasn’t a matter of public discourse during the major pandemics of the Western world. However, things are quite different these days. Today we know just how important mental health is. Likewise, we have a stronger understanding of the link between physical and mental health.
For example, Alexander Djerassi has noted just how hard it is to stay positive in the world fighting against covid-19. Most people share this viewpoint. When we wake up everyday to depressing statistics it’s hard not to feel equally depressed. This has been compounded by a number of other issues.
Perhaps the biggest blow to people’s mental health has come from isolation. People as a whole are social beings. Even those of us who tend toward introversion need the comfort of others from time to time. During past pandemics, or really any sort of crisis, people could depend on their larger community. Even seemingly simple comforts such as being able to smile at a stranger while recognizing shared adversity can mean a lot. Our own mental baggage often seems lighter when we recognize others are carrying the same load. People might have used this term to describe it in the past. But when they smiled at a stranger or talked to their neighbors it was a form of mental health care.
Covid-19 has totally disrupted that form of mental relief. Many people set themselves up to face the more overt form of isolation. We took note of the fact that we might not see coworkers face to face for a while. Others made heartfelt apologies to distant family members while excusing themselves from holiday celebrations. These were the sorts of social isolation that we were prepared for. We might not like it, but we faced that challenge with some understanding of what was to come.
The reality of social isolation under Covid-19 has been something else entirely. Humanity is a fundamentally social being. Who we are as individuals is in large part due to our interactions with others. Our mood is typically changed over the course of the day by our interactions with others. We share in the joys of others while finding strength in their struggles. We share our burdens with close friends and family. But most of us have also had moments where we’re there for a stranger in need. And these types of bonds remind us of our shared humanity. Our social interactions are in many ways a recognition of the best parts of both life and our own individual natures. Social interaction is essentially exercising empathy. And empathy is part of what it is to be human.
Masks have shielded our smiles from others. Likewise someone on the verge of tears will usually have that masked as well. We might normally step in to help someone in that situation. But now we wouldn’t note the person’s pained expression. And with social distancing we wouldn’t really be able to step in to help if we did. Even such fundamental interactions such as dating have become extraordinarily difficult.
All of this highlights the toll Covid-19 is taking on our mental health. But, Alexander Djerassi thinks we can try to take comfort in the fact that everyone is finding it equally hard to stay positive. It’s a struggle to be sure. But it’s also a struggle we’re all working on together. Even if Covid-19 makes it hard for us to see this in practice within other people’s lives.