Is Our Pandemic Response Actually A Cultural Suicide Warning Sign: A Cry for Help?
Today’s Relatively Minor “Crisis” is only a Foreshadowing of the “Real” Crises Coming Our Way Soon
When your principles seem to be demanding suicide, clearly it’s time to check your premises. – N.Branden
My wife is a mental health nursing professor and has brainwashed me to always consider this point of view when I try to understand a particularly messy situation in the world or with a person. Given that I am a simplistic Engineer it has taken quite a few years to take this way of perceiving seriously but now that I have “drunk the kool-aid” I cannot help but see the mental health impacts of decisions we all make. The Covid-19 pandemic is a case in point. The idea that we can view this crisis as cultural suicide and as a mental health problem came to me after watching this video on BBC: Coronavirus: Lockdown’s heavy toll on Italy’s mental health https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-52400085/coronavirus-lockdown-s-heavy-toll-on-italy-s-mental-health As a fan of history the fall of civilizations is often attributed to internal weaknesses and contradictions: changes that are needed are not done, and the internal stresses in a society weaken it to the point that an external stress brings on collapse. That may be our fate if we do not change. An external stress may be a war, or it may be a disease. There are two parts to the pandemic that I would like to examine: first, the pandemic itself and second, our response to it. In both cases I will use the idea of “Suicide Warning Signs” to frame my thoughts.
Suicide Warning Signs as a metaphor for our Current behaviours
Much of what we consider “normal” behaviour would have been considered a sign of a troubled person decades ago. This is not an issue of individual pathology, but social pathology. The ties that bind us together, the ties that build trust and a sense of belonging, are frayed. Without them we cannot survive psychologically or as a society. Reflect upon these suicide warning signs and ask yourself: “Do they also apply to our society as a whole?” Are we, as a society, in a pre-suicide/contemplation mode?”
undergo drastic behavior changes
withdraw from friends or social activities
lose interest in personal appearance
bored by school, work, or hobbies
preoccupied with death
increased drug or alcohol use
extreme mood swings
feel like they’re a burden to others
suffered a current loss, crisis, or problem
Bats for sale in Chinese Wet Market
The Pandemic as a Suicide Warning Sign from Nature
Disease is natural and unavoidable. Today’s global order, however, produces epidemiological environments that favor the accelerated spread of both infectious and chronic disease. The current pandemic is a case in point. – Eileen Crist https://blog.ecologicalcitizen.net/2020/04/22/the-covid-19-mirror/
Before every suicide there are warning signs. We’ve had several. Acid rain. The Ozone Hole. The 2008 Financial melt-down. Sars. Covid-19. It is obvious that we are abusing Nature. Toxic soil. Mass extinction. Ecosystem collapse. Climate Disruption. Collapse of Fisheries. The list is almost endless. In spite of the fact that this is all obvious we are not changing how we live. All these signals are telling us to change, but so far we have not. So, in metaphorical terms, it was time to ramp things up a bit to get our attention: how about a pandemic? That is one way of seeing this pandemic – it is simply a signal to tell us to change. Of course, the changes go far beyond tinkering with our global supply chains or live animal markets or mass tourism or flawed old age home regulations – all issues made obvious by the pandemic. This pandemic is telling us that we are a part of the World ecosystem and as the Good Book tells us: “As you do unto other so will it be done unto you.” Or, to put it in Physics terminology: “For every reaction this is an equal and opposite reaction.” Or perhaps you prefer the lumberjack view: “You shit in my yard and I will shit in your yard.” Perhaps it’s time to stop shitting in Nature’s yard and then she will stop shitting in ours. If we don’t head this “warning” and change, and I call it a warning because in absolute terms, when compared with previous disasters in history, the number of deaths from covid-19 is not that large, we will be hit by a real disaster – one where many tens of millions may die. Perhaps a famine. Perhaps a war. Who knows? But the message is clear – we are committing suicide if we don’t change. We are now ”lucky” enough to have this virus as a warning. That is the good news. We still have a chance to change.
What you can do? Sign this petition. China’s ‘wet markets’ have reopened ban travel to and from China until they are closed.
Is our Flawed Response to the Virus Creating A Mental health Crisis?
Mental Health IS Health
Most countries seem to be responding from a place of fear and paranoia. Most countries are reacting rather than being proactive with their action. Most countries have policies that demonstrate that they think they can “defeat the virus”. Most countries are only now starting to think about the “End Game”, realizing that their quarantine procedures are not sustainable – whether it be psychologically, economically or for the food supply and supply chain. Most countries still do not see this crisis as something that could have been avoided [SARS was the warning shot, the wet markets should have all been shut down then]. Most countries are not seeing that their social structures that allow a portion of their population to be abused [bunk houses, no sick days, underpaid, no benefits, etc.] is why they cannot control the virus’s spread. Most countries do not see that our abuse of Nature is the source of the recent viruses, of which Covid-19 is only the most recent.
Being mentally healthy means we face these harsh truths every day. We do not deny reality. But also do not act out of a place of fear. We made the problem. We can fix the problem. But not without admitting that life will now change. Forever. This virus is here to stay. So let’s admit to that. We need social distancing, but people still have to live. We know from the Great Depression that suicide rates increased for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate – so let’s not pretend that there is not severe collateral damage from the massive unemployment our approach is causing. What we need is to build people up to make changes to behaviours that protect the vulnerable – especially those in long term care [we have failed in that regard even with our lock down] – that educate the population and trust them to make rational choices. It has worked in Sweden as this headline from 2 days ago says. Yes, at a cost. But our costs are, in my guess, going to be much more.
Sweden resisted a lockdown, and its capital Stockholm is expected to reach ‘herd immunity’ in weeks
In a mature democracy we should not be treating people like they do in China. We are not wards of the State. A civil society would give people the tools to keep their physical and mental health intact. We are doing the former at the expense of the latter. This is a failed model. We are beings where separating the mind from the body only results in disaster. For a healthy body we also need a healthy mind.
The Punchline? Without making mental health an integral part of our physical health response we risk having long term damage that outweighs our “victory” today. Yes, this crisis can be seen as a giant cry for help. It is a cry to change. How we treat nature. How we treat the downtrodden and vulnerable. It is also a cry of help saying: Change!
A final note: as you can be sure that the suicide rate will increase, here is some advice on What to do and say when someone says they want to commit suicide https://www.health24.com/Medical/Depression/Suicide/what-to-do-and-say-when-someone-wants-to-commit-suicide-20180612 Also, here are 21 Things People Said That Were Actually Code for ‘I’m Suicidal’ – listen and take what people say seriously. If we help each other, we can get through this – but only together.
written by Gordon Kubanek