Sunday, 19 April 2020

Lockdown and the Power of Persuasion

Currently, we are facing another three weeks of lockdown, possibly even longer. So it feels ever more important to look at the way this situation is being presented in order to work out the best possible outcome.   

We hear evidence that social distancing is effective in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and that we may even be over the very worst of the death tolls.

And yet the unrelenting deprivation of lockdown for so many people may be extremely hard to sustain.

It feels to me like a tinder box which, if not handled very carefully, could conflate to bring about a very unwelcome outcome.

A recent headline in The Times read: "Public being treated like children in lockdown situation." Many of us feel that, from the outset and after a shaky start, the Government's approach has been to order and instruct. Adults used to running their own lives and making their own choices are not comfortable being put back into childhood roles.  

Decision makers have categorised people into groups that show no appreciation of the wide disparity of individual situations within such groups, as well as seemingly ignoring those who may not have a home to stay in or those whose homes are far from a safe refuge.
Generations of families are being kept apart
We have witnessed an exponential rise in domestic abuse since the lockdown, and for those already suffering from depressive conditions and addictions, being isolated in your own space can quickly lead to acute loneliness, self-harm and despair.  

Old people in care homes, deprived of family visits, can so easily lose the will to live. On the other hand, there are many people aged 70+ who are as fit - or even fitter - than their younger colleagues (look at Captain Tom, for example, the Army veteran who has lapped his garden over 100 times at the age of 99). Purely because of their age, these people have been pensioned off and made to feel like pariahs if they venture out at all.   

We even have the ridiculous situation of the NHS now having to beg people to come into hospital for their critical care treatments, such has been the fear brought about by the Stay At Home: Protect our NHS messages. 

We have heard many examples of the heavy-handedness of the police in challenging people's reasons for being outside, but this approach has also led to the very destructive process of neighbours policing each other and social media groups being set up to monitor  the activities of others.  

This is extremely divisive at a time when, above all, we need to be pulling together in our communities and as citizens, not just of the UK, but of the world.  

I believe this could have been avoided if there had been more focus on the "how" and not just the "what" of the incessant messages with which we are being bombarded. Those messages have been delivered in a way that is so sombre and threatening that it is difficult not to feel like a naughty child who doesn't really understand the situation - and certainly can't be trusted!

Ministers need to explain, not threaten

Research into working with resistance has demonstrated that, to be effective, it is necessary to be able to persuade the person that change is in their best interest and is motivational in over-riding the current behaviour.  

No one ever made a sufferer from anorexia start eating healthily again by threats – not even the very real one of death - and recovery in these situations is reached  by offering alternative lifelines which break through the fear that has created the resistance in the first place.  

We are living in a climate of fear and uncertainty and are receiving threats and orders on a daily basis with very little empathy and understanding about the hardships we all are experiencing. And, meanwhile, there are no positive suggestions about how to better manage the situation the government has imposed on us. 

This is a very demanding time for us all, but it doesn't have to be a wasted one.

There ARE ways to mitigate against even the most acute distress and the first and most important one of these has to acknowledge its existence.

I worry that ministers are those who are guiding them are not sufficiently aware of the psychological impact of this lockdown. And, because of that, I the tinder box could soon ignite.

If that happens, the consequential damage could be very long term.   

Photo by iMattSmart on Unsplash
Photo 2 by Rod Long on Unsplash
Photo 3 by helloimnik on Unsplash         


Sunday, 5 April 2020

The Best of Us ... The Worst of Us

“It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.” The opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens in 1859, sound a strikingly familiar chord today.  
We have made extraordinary advances in science and technology but, at the same time, we have ruthlessly used and abused our environment, and we now find ourselves exposed to a global threat over which we have, as yet, no control.  

This has led an unprecedented level of fear at a universal level, and the way we respond to that fear will be critical in how well we survive the corona virus pandemic.

Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and the survival of the fittest have been interpreted by some as every man for himself.  But in fact, if we look at animals in the wild, and what we now know about the way trees communicate with each other, it is evident that survival is about looking after your community (the herd or the woodland) and that individuals are significantly more at risk if they act independently of each other and do not collaborate with their tribes.  

Those who have emptied the shelves of supermarkets to stockpile for themselves are at risk of setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they not only create the very shortage that they are anxious to avoid, but are also still vulnerable to contracting the virus and may have unwittingly deprived themselves of the very people they will need to look after them.  

There is a fundamental difference between a survival gene and a selfish gene, and unless we can all recognise and respect that we need to collaborate in order to survive, I believe we will exponentially increase our chances of causing our own destruction.  

While we have now been given strict orders from the Government as to how we should behave, specifically focused on what we should not do, I feel there has been little support or advice with regard to the mental health aspect of this epidemic. 

For those people with pre-existing psychological disorders  such as depression, addiction, anxiety etc, being isolated can feel very risky and, in some cases, is actively dangerous. 

The instruction to limit activity and freedom that the Government had to issue was not one that anyone wanted to hear, and it was predictable that there would be a wide range of reactions, ranging from denial to outright panic.  

Covid 19 is creating universal trauma
It threatened us all with being forced to radically change our normality on a daily basis while, at the same time, giving us no certainty of an outcome over which we had no control.  

These are conditions that are very difficult to manage and they needed to be presented in a way that understood that fear would be likely to provoke resistance. Uncertainty and lack of control creates an immediate need for structure and support. 

I believe it would have been helpful for a Government minister to have offered strategies to be put in place to help people manage on a daily basis. For example, it would be useful to explain how to maintain structure in our daily lives; (regular meal times, etc.); how to use the time that we are at home in a constructive way - learning a new skill, exploring new ways of contacting people and perhaps revisiting old friendships. 

Failure to give advice in these areas has left many people without direction or purpose and has provoked anger and rebellion among some and, in others, impotent despair. 

Fortunately, we have also seen very positive examples of people showing compassion and collaboration in supporting and reaching out to each together when, for the first time ever, we experience trauma on a universal basis.

This is a time, I believe, to take stock of our own choices and priorities and to question some of our decisions so that, going forward, we can perhaps, lead our lives in a way that is less driven by short term gain. 

We could also understand and show more awareness of the consequences of our behaviour so that, in the longer term, we can better care for the environment we live in. By doing that, we can learn to take better care of ourselves.