Our popular culture imagines the end of times as an external affair;
a comet crashing into the earth, cities decimated by nuclear explosions or falling beneath torrential waves, zombie hordes ravaging through the streets. But what happens when the disaster is playing out in a landscape of interiority. In the surrealist dream now, that would be the inner landscapes of both the virus people are fighting the world over and its effects on the human body and the psyche of the millions currently in an isolating and interminable lockdown?
While the Covid-19 pandemic is not the apocalypse, it certainly is a global catastrophe with vast social, political and economic implications. But this disaster will have equally transformative psychological implications. For many, this has been the most mentally taxing experience of their lives thus experienced. Not only is there no definitive nor datable end in sight to the current health crisis, but all the indicators are that this will result in a global economic meltdown. Within a few months, an entire ontological sense of reality has collapsed as we find ourselves in a completely transformed world. Mental health is deeply personal, rooted in unique personal subjectivities and traumas. However still, this moment as a human experience being endured collectively in our shared and varyings ways, is sure to leave a mental health crisis in its wake. People with pre-existing struggles with depression, anxiety and feelings of deep isolation will find these problems exacerbated. Others may find themselves developing new symptoms of stress under extreme new conditions of social isolation. And people who are trapped in toxic and abusive domestic situations may find themselves locked in doors with their tormenters.
While located in personal subjectivity coupled with neurobiological factors like brain chemistry, mental health is also political. The world we live in, with its brutal inequalities and injustices, leaves deep scars on the human psyche. Racism, misogyny, class repression and state violence are all macro-factors which distort the individual’s sense of self and value. The exploitative reality of capitalism also means that many are financially barred from seeking professional help. In the same way that Covid-19 is a collective trauma, so too is mental health ultimately a social issue, not just an issue of individual lack. As grim as this situation is, society has made great strides in more open discussions about mental health struggles and self-care. If you are feeling alone and scared, there are extensive online resources which can offer you some guidance and comfort in these trying times. Organisations like the Psychological Society of South Africa and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation have prepared resources and contacts for the lockdown. And, if you are feeling capable of it, you can also reach out and check on the mental health statues of friends and family members. In a time of collective trauma and shock, connecting with others is vital to staying well, or even just making it to another day.