A Mental Health Crisis: When Beliefs Blind and Bind us
A good deal has been written as of late on the topic of social isolation during the time of coronavirus. It can be so hard not to be able to plan on and attend social events, to be home alone, even if some people are finding this time one of internal luxury, time to read and be with hobbies, without the clamor of outside interruptions. And not wanting to minimize how this time can be traumatic and can trigger people’s fragilities and worst fears, let alone being at home with lots of people, among them children in a space too small physically and emotionally.
I have been focused on a different kind of crisis: that of many people whose faith, belief systems, political convictions, are preventing them from approaching the scientific knowledge that is available with flexibility and compliance. You might say that none of this is new, our prejudices or our prayers binding us to vote a certain way, and to listen only to those who echo those same beliefs. My question at the moment goes something like this: If we have already decided how we vote and what our opinions are and will be, how can we listen?
Listening, with children as but one example, can be the most important thing we can give them. Because when they feel understood and validated, they don’t have to push back in defiance so as to regain or gain their sense of autonomy and control.
Many of us have, however, been raised to believe there is one way or the highway, and we become immune to attunement to our own emotions and to those of others. We also become immune to letting down our guard long enough to listen to information that runs contrary to our assumptions.
One way of looking at mental health would involve it consisting of combinations of internal safety, flexibility, the capacity to admit mistakes and to make choices as opposed to following by compulsion or command. And when we feel or are lost, one hopes that someone else can help to interrupt our despair or defeat or stubbornness. Optimally this includes the possibility that we find advice that considers our needs, our temperament, our assets and our limitations.
Compatibility can mean that our value systems can stretch to make room for the new information about, either another person or another set of facts that is crucial for our wellbeing. This is admittedly a difficult territory to navigate in; sometimes it feels so daunting as to push us back into the more comfortable habits of thought and action of before. Optimally, there will be enough compatibility either within our belief systems or within our mental health, to admit new evidence or information.
Right now, we are facing something that is for many over the world, a scary and uncertain time, with the advent of coronavirus. There are many people who believe in sacred and higher and absolute powers as ruling life, this world and the afterlife and these beliefs can close the doors to information that would challenge the absoluteness of these convictions. In much of the world, though, people do have (or are creating) the space in their thoughts and actions, for the science that is telling us right now, that lockdowns, social distancing, and various physical protections, can keep the virus at its least potential decimation rate, even if it will still be huge.
There are people who are holdouts, who believe it is their God who controls everything including the virus — its coming and its eventual leaving. And then there will be some who glory in the coming of Armageddon, seeing coronavirus as a sign of end times. On political levels as well, there are those for whom the economy surpasses all else in its own sacredness. There are others who want no interference by the government, and see governmental intervention as only an illegitimate involvement — that which is sacred being individual rights and nothing more.
A Cultural Vulnerability
In this time of coronavirus, we are hearing about people who are vulnerable, not only physically but also emotionally. There are people ridden with anxiety in a very anxious time, and we can only guess that there are many people already suffering from past or present trauma who are triggered to feel attacks of panic, isolation and helplessness by the current combinations of illness and uncertainty.
For those of us who suffer the anxiety of having leadership at the national level that has been wobbly and inconsistent there is another level of anxiety that can part of the time be helped by listening to the level headed leaders, health care professionals, and scientists in our midst.
It may be time, though, to attend to the fact that there are many people all across America as just one example, who are closed to truths, scientific evidence and discoveries — new information — that is crucial for our survival both now during coronavirus and in terms of climate change as well even if the latter seems more distant at this second. If we don’t develop the skills and willingness to evaluate our environment, there is the danger that we will become the sheep manipulated by the slickest leaders rather than people helped by the greatest wisdom.
I have had this funny feeling/thought for quite a while: that mental health professionals are supposed to be coming out of the safer vision of helping clients and patients adapt to what is. And that we have to, together, struggle to incorporate valuable information about our world and sometimes the players who manipulate our weaknesses. And that this is also a key part of mental health.
I realize none of this is simple. We are all full of habits, of addictions, of fears, of the need to rush to certainty even if it is a false one. At the same time, it just might be part of an adventure that we might start, even during lockdown.. Our minds and hearts, as we keep being reminded, can still make contact, lessening the emotional distance between us, and perhaps within ourselves.