A Case for Letting Us Go Back – Before We’re Killed from Within

Early on in 2020, when we had little idea how deadly COVID-19 is, the uncertainty drove humanity into a black panic. As we’ve come to learn more about this virus and how it kills (the average age of a COVID-19 death is higher than the average death age in some countries), we should adjust our precautionary level to match that of the situation as we know it. But people are scared, really scared. And when the news cycle blasts certain news non-stop, most people can’t help but believe it. To them, news is the truth. People don’t check their sources anymore.

COVID-19 has magnified the growing gaps in human relationships– a disconnect that technology has already distorted and magnified. We are traversing what is unprecedented in our history and capable of bringing out malicious human traits concerning power, selfishness, and obliviousness. The repercussions include suicide, spiraling mental health, and abject loneliness. Where are the advocates for mental health at this time, against the physical distancing that is already having untold effects on social fabric everywhere? Who is speaking out against the repercussion of shielding ourselves away from COVID-19? not the veracity or deadliness of the virus? People are dying alone in hospitals, some of the most sterile, lonely, and frightful conditions imaginable. Many hospitals are not even allowing families to see their loved ones off, yet we are gathering in mass crowds to protest? These are not good deaths. I am not speaking to the nature of the protests whatsoever, but to the heart of what is happening. There is something off, and those who question it are shamed, blamed, and silenced.

Intense lockdown makes it impossible to ignore what we’ve always known- that life is meant to be shared, without physical community, the weight of existence can be too much to bear. COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented host of stressors while removing many of the outlets we traditionally use as coping mechanisms. Not only have our routines been disrupted, but we are flooded with the threat of being killed by a disease that still has no cure. And in line with the times, we are making up theories about things we do not know because the desire to hold on to something, anything, can be overwhelming.

Physical distancing is endangering mental health even as it aims to protect physical health. We’ve heard about the increased risks that COVID-19 poses to those who are immuno-compromised and have preexisting conditions. But how many of us are aware that at least in England and Wales, 25% of coronavirus fatalities had been afflicted by dementia? That this virus has also asymmetrically affected veterans, an already shamefully underserved community in the US (a 2016 study showed that roughly 20 veterans commit suicide a day)? It is difficult to draw scientific conclusions at such a time due to insufficient data, but it is still vital that we examine the possible implications that social distancing means for those already coping with cognitive decline. Humans are social animals– we are culturally conditioned to believe that we have conscious control over individual fairness, morality, and empathy, some of our most valued social capacities– teachable qualities we are able to pass from one generation to the next. The isolation and broken routines from lockdown have hastened the cognitive decline that social interaction can help arrest. Lonely people, when alone, become lonelier.

There are several reasons for why people with dementia have been so severely affected by COVID-19– both conditions disproportionately affect the elderly and care homes have been rampaged by the virus.

One of the most common causes of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease 

And it’s not just the elderly who are affected in terms of physical and mental health. The Director of the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that suicide and drug overdoses are killing more young people than COVID-19 itself, epidemics that were not magically resolved in the face of this global pandemic. There has been a 20% increase in substance abuse, while suicide remains the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for people ages 10 to 34. Small wonder, as chronic stress– a phenomenon we are certainly experiencing now– compounded by a lack of healthy coping mechanisms and unprecedented social issues stemming from the isolating qualities of technology…

People are so scared about coronavirus, yet few people are doing the research and work to find out what it actually means to be afflicted. Depending on where you are in the world, some simply lack the means and educational background to do so. A man in Nakuru, in the western region of Kenya, committed suicide as he awaited results from his COVID-19 test after developing symptoms. The test result was positive. In a similar case, a 30 year old man attempted to commit suicide when admited to Mbagathi Infectious Disease Unit in Nairobi for a 14-day quarantine period. 

Several times Kenyans have said to me, corona is dead. And now that I’m back in the U.S. against my attempts at planning and wishes, I’m prepared to be socially shamed for trying to live life as I have been in Kenya. There are several reasons why Kenya has been dealing with COVID-19 better than the U.S.– they have bigger quotidian worries and killers (AIDS, access to clean water, and malaria, just to name a few) and the population is young. Most African countries have been inflating their case numbers for international aid money, which is the least surprising thing about all of this. Regardless of where one is, the numbers are not to be trusted, and we must look beyond mere case numbers. When considering everything that we unconsciously navigate on a daily basis, from car crashes to the endless bacteria in our environments, the act of survival is a miracle in itself.

I’m wondering how much of the difference between East Africa and the U.S. has to do with American moral superiority or the politicization of one of the tensest election seasons in recent history. This pandemic has made it clear that we have to live with a higher degree of uncertainty that we are used to. It’s difficult to take such a plunge. 








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