Last week, more than 600 medical doctors signed and submitted a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump. They were asking him to end the “national shutdown” aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The doctors feared that the widespread orders keeping businesses closed and kids home from school, would result in “exponentially growing health consequences.”
The letter outlines a variety of consequences that the doctors observed resulting from the coronavirus shutdowns. Some of these concerns include patients missing routine check-ups that could detect heart problems or cancer. Doctors also feared the increase in substance and alcohol abuse.
In late April, a survey was done in the United States, using a standard measure of mental distress. For instance, a respondent was asked how often he/she felt sad or nervous in the last month. The results were compared with a sample of demographically similar people in 2018. The results were staggering.
The 2020 participants were eight times as likely to screen positive for serious mental illness. Some 70% of the respondents met criteria for moderate to serious mental illness, compared with 22% in 2018. Clearly, the pandemic has had a devastating effect on mental health.
My studies would seem to indicate, that whereas the pandemic has had a greater impact on the physical health of the elderly, the same pandemic has had a greater mental impact on younger adults. Younger adults have experience a ten-fold increase in serious mental distress, compared with studies done in 2018. Meanwhile, adults sixty and older, had a much smaller increase in serious mental health issues.
The true impact of the pandemic on mental health will take some time to surface. Instances of alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack or kidney failure are poised to increase. Increases are already evident in unemployment, drug addiction and domestic violence. Over a longer period, we would be adding to the list unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and a variety of abuses.
The solution to the above social challenges is not simple. Should governments lift restrictions in order to avoid the mental health issues? If they do, they run the risk of facilitating the spread of the pandemic. Agreed, a more cautious approach is preferred. But what does that mean?
I believe our first responsibility is to preserve life. More medical resources should be available to the more vulnerable in our society. Guidelines for proper hygiene and physical distancing must be observed, human life must be preserved. However, the restrictions required for preserving lives among the more vulnerable, must be balanced with the lessening of restrictions among less vulnerable communities.
Some mental health issues can be corrected with time, loss of life cannot. Death is final. Death is devastating. Hence, we need to celebrate more when persons overcome the claws of this killer virus. The media is too obsessed with the death count rather than with the recovery count. Stories of recovery generate hope. Stories of recovery celebrate life and recognize heroes and heroines in the medical field.
Media intelligence company Meltwater has been tracking some of the stories that are not gaining as much media attention. Meltwater contends, “as news and social media continues to talk about growing concerns and the impact that the coronavirus has had on society in terms of restricted border entry, travel bans and disruptions to the economy, there have been far less media mentions when it comes to the recoveries that have been made.”
Meltwater’s studies show that stories of recovery represent one of the four least reported areas of the pandemic. With 26.1 million news articles talking about the coronavirus across the globe, only about 5,000 of those news articles have mentioned ‘recoveries’ in relation to the virus. On social media, while 223 million mentions have been made on the coronavirus, only about 8,000 of those mentions talk about recoveries, compared to the social media mentions that include ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘death’.
I believe, included in the use of the term recoveries, most references would likely be about economic recovery and not necessarily of persons who have recovered from the virus. In other words, the media is not enamored with stories of hope. Instead, we have been saddled with statistics of death and defeat.
Should data on sermons be available, one wonders, where would the sermonic emphases be placed? Would the emphasis be on restoration, recovery and transformation? Is it possible that we are hearing too much from our pulpits about judgement and the need to repent? Then, who is mending the broken-hearted? Who is taking good news to the poor? Who is helping to release the oppressed? Affirmative answers to these and many more questions were evident in the ministry of Jesus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to rearrange our plans for this holiday weekend. I pray that our unplanned schedules will include much time for reflection on the impact of the pandemic. Let us not be overcome by statistics of death and defeat, and embrace stories of hope and optimism.