Thursday, May 26, 2022
May 26, 2022

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Jayne: ‘Groundhog Day’ sameness has toll

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Being a columnist, I am used to blathering on about a single thought for 675 words or so. My wife is more succinct.

“If tomorrow is exactly like today, is it really tomorrow?” she said recently when asked about her day. “Is it really tomorrow or is it just today again, over and over? And what does that make yesterday?”

Um, I don’t know; I’ll have to consult Jean-Paul Sartre. But the questions pretty much sum up the “Groundhog Day” existence many are leading during the coronavirus pandemic. With stay-at-home orders creating a dull monotony, with kids trying to engage in distance learning and businesses closed and people doing their best to avoid contact with strangers, many Americans are living a post-apocalyptic existence. Add in the economic stress of displaced workers, and we have a bubbling cauldron of anxiety.

All of which leads to concern about the collateral casualty of COVID-19: America’s mental health. Time magazine reports that last month, about 70 percent of Americans experienced moderate-to-severe mental distress — triple the rate seen in 2018. That’s according to a preliminary study from San Diego State University and Florida State University, a study that has not yet been subject to peer review.

“In some ways, this is a perfect storm for mental health issues,” said co-author Jean Twenge. “We’re dealing with social isolation, anxiety around health, and economic problems. All of these are situations linked to mental health challenges, and these are hitting many of us all at once.”

The study suggests that 28 percent of men report serious mental distress, compared with 4 percent in 2018; for women, it’s 27 percent compared with 2 percent two years ago. For adults in a household with children younger than 18, 37 percent report serious distress, compared with 3 percent previously.

Of course, you knew all of that, either personally or intuitively or anecdotally. These are strange times, and nothing in our experience has informed us on how to deal with them. Unlike natural disasters, the pandemic is ongoing, with no telling how long it will last; when a tornado hits, the damage is done and then you can focus on the cleanup. Unlike economic downturns, this recession arrived with little warning; typically, you can see the wave slowly rolling across the country.

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “We talk about the economic consequences, but we also need to talk about the social consequences. The stress, the anxiety, the emotions that are provoked by this crisis are truly significant, and people are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics.”

Nothing profound there. But it’s better than suggesting that people inject disinfectants.

There is no shortage of recommendations to be found on the internet for trying to keep your wits during the pandemic. Things like establishing a daily routine, learning a new skill and maintaining relationships through phone calls or online meetings can help.

So can speaking with a mental health counselor. Clark County’s website offers a list of mental health providers in the community, and the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has a calendar of online events for those desiring help.

In the long run, there is no predicting the transformational impact COVID-19 will have on American life. Ideally, it will lead to a recognition that we do a poor job of planning for the future and that the mythology of rugged American individualism is not only outdated, but that it was phony to begin with.

As author Johann Hari told “Depression and anxiety are signals telling us that our needs are not being met … the single most helpful thing we can do going forward is to allow ourselves to hear the signal.”

Whether or not the United States is listening remains to be seen; this will take years to play out. In the meantime, we go about our day, wondering whether it will be any different from the one before and the one before that.

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