It’s safe to say that by now you probably know the reason behind me writing this blog post. It is, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic. Almost 3 weeks ago I wrote a short blog which contained some simple tips and tricks as to how you can manage anxiety during the pandemic, and boy, what a lot has changed since then!
As the virus has taken hold of entire nations, we have witnessed cities, towns and villages become ghost towns, with only the odd person now milling around. This abrupt disruption of “normal” life left many people in a sense of confusion, disorientation and general fear. Almost two weeks down the line (for the UK at least), people seem to be slowly adjusting to the new “normal” way of life, albeit with extreme caution. The real question on my mind however is not “how long will this last” or even “will I catch Coronavirus” but instead the question of “what is the real pandemic here?” has been plaguing my thoughts.
Now, please don’t mistake me for a fool, I know the current pandemic we are all up against is COVID-19. What I mean with my question is, how, when the virus has such a significantly small mortality rate compared to other viruses currently out there, has it spread with such ferocity. Also, how has this virus managed to bring the Western world to its knees when other diseases such as Ebola didn’t even get close? Finally, how has this disease managed to ravage the Western world but, as of the time of writing, has caused significantly less damage across many lower-income countries in comparison to the awful ongoing battles they have against diseases such as TB, Malaria, Ebola and Cholera.
Upon reflection, I feel as though I have possibly come up with an answer. The real reason COVID-19 has managed to get such a foothold in the West, is because we have been suffering from a whole host of other Pandemics for decades without even noticing. I’m talking about the pandemics of inequality, common mental disorders (such as Anxiety and Depression) and greed. Now I know that most people in the scientific community may label these things as Epidemics, but I would disagree. By definition, all of the things listed above have spread across almost every Western nation (with the USA and UK at the forefront), with only a very small proportion of the population having any sort of “immunity”. Now I realise I am not the first person, and certainly will not be the last to recognise that the West suffers enormously with inequality, greed and the staggering presence of common mental disorders. BUT, in a situation such as the one we currently find ourselves in, it is these long standing “pandemics” which I feel are responsible for the spread of COVID-19, and I feel if anything good should come of this, it should be our ability to reflect better on our treatment and awareness of the struggles we already face and where they have come from. As such, I will break down each “pandemic” and you can let me know if by the end you also see how said “pandemics” may have led to this virus getting such a strong foothold.
What was once considered “loony lefty liberalism” has, overnight, become policy. Despite being told for decades that “there are no magic money trees” and that homelessness cannot be solved overnight, both of these have been achieved not only at record pace but also by a conservative government (here in the UK).
For decades, ever since the ending of WW2, the West has drifted further into being unequal, not just economically but also racially and on the basis of gender. It is not incorrect to say that the top 1% of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 50% put together. This vast void in financial equality has led to significant gaps in education, housing, social and health care. Similar chasms in equality can also be seen across every Western country, and it is only during these times of great hardship that such gaps are truly laid bare for the entire world to see.
“Why is that?” I hear you ask. Well, from a cynical perspective, it’s because when a virus doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, race or sexuality, a vast proportion of wealthy white men become extremely scared that their ivory towers and fortresses of money won’t offer them the protection they thought they would. It is at this point that they begin to panic and momentarily reverse their ill opinion of the “lower class” in a desperate plea for help. Note the use of the word momentarily. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that once this COVID-19 pandemic is over you will see record funding for the NHS, public services and the creation of an equal society.
From a less cynical perspective it’s because of the transfer of power. As mentioned above, when a disease doesn’t discriminate, the value of money and possessions disappear. This can be seen as the entire global financial market has all but crashed, hitting a brick wall, and all it took was a matter of days and one virus, pretty scary right?! What does however increase in value is the worth of the individual. Just a few years ago, junior doctors were hounded off picket lines for wanting a fair wage and safe working hours. Now they are being praised as modern day heroes. In fact, only a few months ago our “delightful” home secretary Priti Patel announced a new, post-Brexit immigration rule which would classify anyone on below £24,000 a year as unskilled, meaning they would not qualify for a visa. Imagine the disaster we would be in now if that would have happened. Nurses, carers, mental health workers, shop workers, bus drivers, teachers and so on would all be classified as “un-skilled” and therefore worthless! Now, as with doctors, they are being praised for being the very people holding the fabric of society together.
Be under no illusion, this new found sense of worth and transfer of power will not last long after the pandemic is over. Therefore USE IT WISELY! Vote well, know your worth and demand better from all of those who once told you you were insignificant, because when the time came, it wasn’t billionaires or tech giants that saved the world, it was the key workers.
- Mental Disorders
For almost a century, the West has grappled with the worst pandemic it has ever faced, with common mental disorders (such as anxiety and depression) now thought to affect at least 1 in 4 people in the UK alone. To put into perspective the true enormity of the mental health pandemic the world faces, the WHO estimates that over 800,000 people worldwide die each year from suicide, that is equivalent to a virus 12.5x more deadly that COVID-19 (at the time of writing) sweeping the globe Every. Year.
So why then do common mental disorders and investment in mental health infrastructure amount to such a small percentage of funding each year? Again, in comparison with COVID-19, the UK spends roughly £12billion per year on mental health research and infrastructure. That’s less than 3% of what has been spent so far by the UK on COVID-19.
As highlighted previously, the current outbreak does require vast resources, and I am by no means critiquing the governments spending to try to stop the spread of the virus. BUT, as mentioned in the inequality section above, the vast amounts of spending on COVID-19 demonstrate that such amounts COULD have been spent on other areas in the past. “Why is this relevant to stopping COVID-19 though?” I hear you say. Well, because the main spreader of this virus is humans, and the main ways to stop the spread is social distancing, isolation and a complete change in human behaviour. “Who knows about human behaviour and how it can impact whether we adhere to government guidelines?” I hear you ask. Mental health professionals, that’s who. You can spend all the money on policing, press briefings and adverts you have, but if you don’t have a serious and comprehensive understanding of how humans behave, it’s pointless as it will all be ignored.
Not only will you have a lack of adherence, you will also see mass hysteria, civil unrest and therefore an increase in deaths related to the virus. Isolation fatigue is a serious and real issue that many countries face, and needs to be addressed urgently.
When humans panic they tend to increase risk taking behaviour and act irrationally, a key example of which is the continuation of mass social gatherings and the torching of 5G masts. Both of these are very risky behaviours, and both are completely irrational given the circumstances. Threats from government and a slap on the wrist from police, will not however work in the majority of cases to stop these behaviours. Instead, the government must take into consideration the way humans behave and respond appropriately based on EXPERT OPINION ALONE.
It’s been said already by many newspapers and members of the scientific community, but COVID-19 is a pandemic of the privileged. It was spread by wealthy, mobile Westerners globetrotting with little consideration of the potential dangers. That is mainly due to the immense privilege most Westerners have that we are no longer aware of.
For a vast proportion of the population in the West, travelling is seen as an entitlement, not a luxury. Again, the individual thought to be responsible for bringing COVID-19 to the UK was himself returning from a skiing trip in Italy where he contracted the virus.
For too long now our greed and entitlement has led us to recklessly travel the globe with little thought for the impacts it has on the world around us. For decades the world has been on fire, drowning and suffering horrendous climate disasters due to our desire to take pictures on a beach on the Costa-del-sol and using a plane to get there. The irony of this whole situation is that the lack of air travel, vehicle usage and other polluting behaviours means the West may have actually prevented the premature deaths of tens of thousands of individuals due to climate change and pollution.
Our vapid consumerism cannot continue. Whilst i’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to better connect the world, we should make far more of an effort to explore the safe and fair ways of doing this. Now, I am no hypocrite, and I fully appreciate that I have also had the privilege of travel, and am not a conscious consumer as much as I should be. But, this pandemic really has highlighted the areas that I need to change, and I hope it does the same for you.
Over the coming days, weeks and months it’s safe to say that many of us will face challenges we weren’t expecting to and aren’t prepared for. It’s important during this time to be patient, caring and kind. As mentioned previously, there is more to this than just “staying at home”, and just because your privilege may have meant you can stockpile, remain indoors safely and bare the financial pitfalls weathering this pandemic involves, this doesn’t mean that this is the case for everyone else.
Now is not a time for criticism. It’s a time for awareness, acceptance and compassion. Without these, not only will we not overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, but we will also fail to address the silent pandemics mentioned above, all of which should be equally as important as the other.
As always, Stay Safe