Coronavirus, the most spoken word in perhaps every language for the past 6 months, and for the UK, predictably the most spoken word for the next 6 months. Remember in March this so called ‘flu’ was due to pass within weeks: life back to normal, pubs open past 10pm, plenty beyond 6 in the room and full-frontal faces greeting acquaintances with a smile. The naivety of what we thought was another swine flu-esque scare has mutated into an inevitable yearlong pandemic. And who knows where will we be in 6 months’ time – Bojo, any guesses? Eat Out, To Help Out: Part Two – there might be no one else left to blame.
What I want to address is death in a pandemic. Not death inclusively, but suicide. Littering social media are statistics comparing Coronavirus deaths to suicide deaths, “wear a mask and be kind” and all that. Empty sentiments for entirely different problems.
A new social media craze is pitting coronavirus related deaths and suicide deaths against one another as a gesture to advise against another lockdown. This so-called call for kindness is blatantly performative activism, in the guise of empathising with mental health as the motivation to avoid another lockdown.
The way to help issues of mental illness would not be to campaign against lockdown two, but campaign for mental health resources and funding.
Where is the anger for the plight of government aid for mental health? Activism, especially over the past year, has become a self-serving gesture masked in social booms of issues people like to share on their stories but fail to read further into. I’m not innocent. I posted the black square for #blackouttuesday – Instagram was a graveyard of black grids as a nod to the BLM protests. But is a nod enough? Absolutely not. Following the backlash of this performative activism I did a bit of self-reflection, donated to aid the protesters, read some books and vowed to keep up this practice. So, what’s next for the coronavirus vigilantes championing suicide by resisting another lockdown? What will their continued action look like?
The main point of ignorance here is failing to understand the differences between physical and mental health. Finally, they are being registered as equally important but simply to accentuate selfish agendas. Coronavirus, if you haven’t heard, is a deadly virus, contagious to the point of locking up nations. Mental illness is a pandemic in its own right, but it’s not contagious. Wearing a mask won’t alleviate your depression but just as the government has finally sourced some PPE to mitigate COVID, there remains a lack of protective measures for those mentally ill. The pandemic and lockdown have an evidently severe impact on mental health but dying from complications of coronavirus and dying from suicide are not both deaths caused solely by the pandemic. Mental illness in many people was onset long before the pandemic, periods of isolation have done nothing but exacerbate it. But the somewhat correlating of rising COVID cases and declining mental health does not excuse the fact mental illness is not contagious, and shouldn’t be used as some kind of more socially acceptable anti-mask weapon. And what’s worse is that long after the pandemic, mental illness will survive, not as a nasty remnant of 2020, but an ongoing and always developing disease, existing far beyond this sudden boom of faux support.
Even at the surface, a lot of mental health issues responded to on social media are things such as anxiety and depression but simply the words.
There is little voiced about the more sinister effects of both, not to mention more sinister illnesses. Rarely do I see a call to destigmatise schizophrenia or personality disorders. Fundamentally, because the world doesn’t like ugly things. No one wants to wear a mask because they’re ugly. No one wants to witness or share experiences of suicide attempts or manic episodes because they’re not “normal”, not pretty. And this new call to ‘be kind’ perpetuates that, attempting to wrap up a complex issue in a pretty little quote to slap in your bio. The words ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, ‘mental health’ are all easy to say and easy to swallow in shallow statements, but your care has to go deep enough into the messy symptoms to be at all worth it for genuine progress.
This ally-ism has become so superficial that it is beginning to forget the initial issue being supported. In this case, it’s not mental health. The circumstances of coronavirus are debilitating and of course, resonate with everyone; low moods, cancelled plans and disappointed ambitions are all valid. But your week long sadness over a cancelled holiday isn’t depression. Lumping mental illness in with the ‘what could’ve beens if there wasn’t a pandemic’ does nothing but normalise tolerating mental illness, making no progress to help people access support or lobby for more NHS funding.
While people are in high risk groups for mental illness, they can be predisposed to mental illness and of course develop it, but the competition between COVID deaths and suicide deaths delegitimises the mental health of a suicide victim and suggests a COVID death was intentional.
Put simply; causes of death are not in competition.
The society of post-pandemic life now seems to be based on performative veiled selfishness, not genuine empathy for one another. Yes, this is a traumatic time for us all, but empty acts of solidarity for our own gain is futile. In the end, comparing covid and suicide deaths surely just emphasises the privilege of those sharing the statistics. The sincerity of empathy only goes as far as your appreciation for your own health and circumstances, even before the pandemic. Just as the coronavirus spreads does a parasitic community rule makers prescribing what’s right and for who, reflecting their personal choices out onto overs as a strange stretch of the ‘every man for himself’ sentiment out into social control.
But equally, what can be crafted is a community of genuine care and gratitude we’ve even made it past one lockdown, using our personal experiences to be more caring rather than controlling or silencing. Yeah wear a mask and be kind, but when you’re allowed to take them off, remember how this all felt, imagine you felt 10x worse then go lobby for change.