People who downplay the threat of this pandemic are as deadly as the disease itself
Images via Canva and Unsplash

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that being in a pandemic sucks.

However, we seem to be on different pages as to what sucks most about it. Many of us are struggling with being separated from our friends and loved ones for so long. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus, while others are dealing with ongoing health effects of their own illness. Millions are struggling with job loss and financial stress due to businesses being closed. Parents are drowning, dealing with their kids' online schooling and lack of in-person social interactions on top of their own work logistics. Most of us hate wearing masks (even if we do so diligently), and the vast majority of us are just tired of having to think about and deal with everything the pandemic entails.

Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

It's not that those mental health challenges aren't real. They most definitely are. But when we focus exclusively on the mental health impact of lockdowns, we miss the fact that there are also significant mental health struggles on the other side of those arguments.


For one, what about the mental and emotional distress of watching people you love die of a preventable disease? If lockdowns are hard on mental health, what do we think allowing the virus to spread unchecked (even more than we already have) and kill even more people would do? People talk about lockdowns causing economic distress as if the alternative would eliminate mental health struggles. I don't see how a drastically increased death toll would be better.

The top five life stressors, according to University Hospitals, are:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss

Only one of those stressors comes with lockdowns (unless you count divorce from being cooped up with your spouse, but relationship troubles are even being reported from countries without lockdowns). Two of them at least, death of a loved one and major illness, would be experienced far more without public health measures.

The pandemic was always going to be a choice between a rock and a hard place. There was never a way to avoid suffering here—we were either going to have mass death or mass economic strife (or both, as we've found out the hard way by really screwing up the response). And both of those options come with a mental health toll.

Arguably, however, the economic struggles are preferable to the deaths in every way. The government can choose to help citizens financially, thereby easing the mental health burden of a job loss until the economy rebounds. The government can't undo the death of a loved one, and that impact is permanent.

Then, what about the mental health impact of losing our faith in our fellow citizens?

We've spent the past year going through the largest mass death event of our lifetime, and half of us have spent that year trying to convince the other half that it's actually happening. Not even trying to convince them of the best way to handle it, but simply that it's real. The constant battling of denial and misinformation is exhausting and demoralizing. Handling the pandemic would be hard enough if we were all on the same page. But seeing and hearing people treat 400,000+ dead Americans as either not real or not a big deal is enough to make you lose your mind.

And then there's the emotional toll of realizing that a number of your fellow countrymen see elderly/disabled/overweight/Black/Latino people as expendable, that an unreal number of Americans would rather see hundreds of thousands of us die than wear a mask, and that a disturbing percentage are far more likely to listen to conspiracy theorists than the world's most respected scientists. The ignorance and paranoia are hard to take. The inhumanity of it all is devastating.

So now people who already struggled with their mental health also have to process a loss of faith in humanity. That kind of existential stress is hard to quantify, but it's real. Some of us have tried to teach our children that most people are good and kind, that selfishness and self-interest are the exceptions and not the rules. Now we're stuck with this daily deluge of evidence that a startling number of people simply aren't willing to sacrifice at all for the greater good, and trying to explain why that is to our kids.

As a result, we feel less safe and secure. We feel frustrated and angry. We feel sad and weary because it didn't have to be like this. We struggle to find hope that we'll be able to turn this thing around. Watching our fellow Americans insist that basic public health measures are tyranny, that their individual liberty is more important than collective freedom and well-being no matter what the cost, and that objective reality isn't real—and then seeing all of this result in far more sickness and death than there needs to be—has an emotional impact every single day.

So yes, let's keep talking about mental health in the pandemic, but let's not pretend that people are only struggling due to lockdowns and social distancing. The inhumanity we've seen from far too many is taking its toll as well.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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Those of us who have been parenting for a while have some wisdom to share from experience. Not that older moms know everything, of course, but hindsight can offer some perspective that's hard to find when you're in the thick of early motherhood.

Upworthy asked our readers who are moms what they wish they could tell their younger selves about motherhood, and the responses were both honest and wholesome. Here's what they said:

Lighten up. Don't sweat the small stuff.

One of the most common responses was to stop worrying about the little things so much, try to be present with your kids, and enjoy the time you have with them:

"Relax and enjoy them. If your house is a mess, so be it. Stay in the moment as they are temporary..more so than you think, sometimes. We lost our beautiful boy to cancer 15+yrs ago. I loved him more than life itself..💔 "- Janet

"Don't worry about the dishes, laundry and other chores. Read the kids another book. Go outside and make a mud pie. Throw the baseball around a little longer. Color another picture. Take more pictures and make sure you are in the pictures too! My babies are 19 and 17 and I would give anything to relive an ordinary Saturday from 15 years ago." - Emma H.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

Keep Reading Show less