Mental health has been a significant but much ignored issue of the Covid pandemic. Take a moment to consider the impact on all of us caused by travel restrictions, isolation, social distance rules, closure of pubs, restaurants and cafes, loss of income, education suspended, and of course the fear of infection and death. Imagine opening a Christmas cracker in 2019 with your Christmas Day meal and finding this list of restrictions as a prediction for your life in 2020! You would have dismissed it out of hand ……………. but it was real, it happened to ALL of us. Whether you are young or old, male or female, rich or poor, your mental health has suffered. Maybe by degree, but it HAS suffered! And dangerously….. it’s being poorly recognised, just like the proportion of an iceberg below the water being more dangerous to ships than that above the water ……. it’s unseen.
I believe strongly that the media has contributed significantly to our mental decay, though I have only the U.K. media as my experience. Factual reporting has disappeared, opinions and criticism rules OK! Every step our government took was wrong, every step was pulled apart by opposition political parties, “celebrities”, journalists and ex politicians with an axe to grind. I also believe that this “political” negativity fuelled that fear, and that when combined with the restriction of freedoms, has been a major contributor to the general fall in mental health we have all felt. It will have taken supreme efforts by many people to mitigate this effect. Some will have relied on the strength of their relationship with a spouse or partner, others will have found new means of distraction such as reading more books, bingeing on Netflix, and many will have turned to their religious faiths or spirituality. In the case of Dr C and I it was our Buddhist beliefs and a little knowledge of Epicurean philosophy that sustained us. They are connected, and the clue is in these two quotes from ancient texts:
“The secret of happiness is in the diathesis (our disposition) of which we are sole arbiters.”Epicurus follower, Diogenes of Oenoanda
“All states of being are determined by mind.”Buddha, in The Dhammapada
In essence they are both saying the same thing, that WE actually CHOOSE our thoughts, our immediate feelings or emotions and that our mind rules us ….. In Buddhism this is exemplified by the Sutra of the Arrows; imagine you get a pain in your stomach, this is the first arrow, but then we immediately start worrying and thinking negatively of all of the dangerous things it could be, this is the second arrow and we make it worse when we worry about it for days before starting to read about and consider that it’s cancer. Our state of being has been determined by our own minds of which we are the sole arbiters, to combine the two quotes above.
From the early summer of 2020 Dr C and I began to realise that our overall mental health was falling, we missed travelling abroad, we missed having meals and wine tastings with our daughter and her husband, we dreaded watching the media as everything was so negative, our lives had become a mindless routine of living in isolation with no variety. We needed to deal with it and our early steps were firstly to STOP watching all of the news channels on TV, especially the BBC, secondly to find reliable websites that gave reasonably reliable data about Covid especially infections, vaccinations and deaths, thirdly to watch and listen to ONLY government briefings on TV rather than media interpretations and opinionated critiques of what was said. As an aside and a rationale for this, we read a website Order Order from a Guido Fawkes persona that regularly exposed people appearing on the main media channels who were introduced as a “scientific advisor” or an “infection biochemist” or a “pandemic expert” who were in fact left wing, Marxist, political opponents of government but which was never revealed. Similarly he exposed outright media lies about hospitals being full/overrun and a shortage of beds, ventilators and a shortage of nurses. The worst ones have been concerning the efficacy of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine, propagated by the EU especially Germany and France, and multiplied by the duplicitous reporting of the media.
So, faced with so much bombardment from negative propaganda hour after hour on the news channels and day after day in the newspapers, is it any wonder that mental health has suffered? And so in my next two post to follow this week I will highlight the philosophy from Ancient Greece, and Epicurus in particular, in relation to Covid related mental health, followed by a post on a Buddhist perspective to the same problem. In the meantime what have been your own experiences of Covid from a mental health perspective?