We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. America is shut down. Captains of industry, elected officials and journalists are feverishly communicating their concerns in print and over the air waves. Many have noted that it feels similar to a dystopian novel–our social and political structures failing spectacularly. And day after day, hour after hour, I hear almost nothing about the mentally ill; arguably the most vulnerable population in the world.
There are some notable exceptions. They stand out like signal flares against the backdrop of a dark sky.
One such exception is the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. On Saturday he noted to reporters the “truly significant” psychological toll the virus has taken on human beings: “People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics,” he said. “This state wants to start to address that.” He asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists willing to volunteer to contact the state to help set up a network to provide mental-health assistance for people who are anxious or isolated.
God bless him.
Mentally ill people are used to being invisible. Until a mood disorder precipitates a tragedy–shooting, suicide, or general act of violence–society isn’t interested. Once the tragedy occurs, society’s disinterest turns to naked disgust. So these are the two polarities American opinion pivots between; loathing and callousness.
But shouldn’t the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic and mass isolation shake loose some concern for this constituency? You’d think. I mean, maybe right?
Or maybe not. At least not in the volume afforded to other vulnerable groups.
So allow me to share why this virus, and the panic, social distancing and sheltering in place, is potentially lethal (in the emotional sense) to those living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.
I’ll focus on the depressed group, of which I am a card carrying member.
Even in times of relative social and political functionality, I tend to feel isolated. This feeling is so detrimental to my wellbeing and so pervasive that over the years I’ve developed aggressive measures to contain it. The centerpiece–most critical!–to my approach, is being in public. In the company of others. Even if we’re simply co-working and not communicating.
It’s simple but non-negotiable if I don’t want to stew in my own depressive juices.
Now I’m home. All day. Every day. Fortunately I don’t live alone because that would put me in a full on danger zone. I change rooms and go for walks. There is no timetable for how long this will last. I go hour by hour; limping through the days.
Oh how nice it would be to feel acknowledged. I’m desperate to see some cable news coverage that includes mental health experts discussing this emergency. Or our elected officials. Or anyone with a substantial platform.
I’ll keep waiting, everyone, while sending up my little signal flares.