Just recently, I was speaking with a close friend of mine on what it was like to finally be able to interact with each other face-to-face again. The conversation turned to how our children were coping, and he began to tell me of a recent event – his son had his friends come over to the house to play together, and yet… they didn’t.
Despite being in the same room, they barely interacted and just stuck with the methods they had grown accustomed to in the past year: namely, their devices.
In a way, this should come as no surprise—we’ve spent the last year trying to keep them apart in order to keep them safe. Whether it’s a classroom, a community centre, a sports field, or somewhere they can hang out, they’ve all just been replaced with a Zoom call. And many would have turned their attention to more solo-friendly activities, out of necessity. So, can we now simply throw them back into a room together and expect things to return to how they were?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised it applied to myself as well—over this past year, have we, as a society, forgotten how to play together?
We, quite rightly, think of young people as being most vulnerable to issues like these, but the truth is that it affects us all – this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event and we’re still coming to terms with how deep the impact will be. And there is very likely to be a need for long-term ongoing support – a study of New York residents following the 9/11 attacks showed much higher than expected levels of psychological distress for up to 14 years after the event itself.
However, we can already see what a year-long period of enforced isolation has done to our mental health—across the UK, mental health indicators are still significantly worse compared to pre-pandemic levels. This, in turn, can even lead to the development or worsening of more specific disorders, such as agoraphobia, germaphobia and OCD.
I wonder if this is not just a small part of a wider societal issue. I fear that, on some level, we have started to forget how to interact with each other as a cohesive whole—how to converse, share our thoughts and debate issues in a meaningful way.
Instead, we see a rise in anger and violence being using as an outlet for our emotion. America’s Federal Aviation Authority recently reported a ten-fold increase in cases of bad behaviour by airline passengers; worrying in itself, but even more–so when you realise how few people would be flying during the pandemic.
But now, as we approach the final stage of our roadmap out of lockdown, it’s time to work out the way forward. We need to take a good look at ourselves and realise how we’ve changed—to recognise the skills that we’ve forgotten and to set out our plan to rebuild them. Most of all, we need to remember we’re not alone in this—some of us will undoubtedly readjust to our new freedoms much faster than others, but we should always be open to supporting others and be patient with those that are still struggling.
Finally, for those of us who have the opportunity to make a direct impact, we must consider carefully the services we offer and what more we could do. Better support for mental health is sure to be at the centre of our recovery after COVID, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
So I ask, what can you do to help your community become more resilient than it was before COVID?