As the nation descended into a collective dark night of the soul when the first pandemic of our lifetime hit with abandon during the infamous year of 2020, we understandably focused on the thousands dying and millions infected by the virus. But to understand the full extent of the haunting darkness in COVID World, one had to focus below the radar, at a deeply disturbing trend unfurling with little notice, but leading to questions that eventually became unavoidable.
How would Americans – and the people of every country on the planet infected by this damnable plague – be able to cope mentally with the sudden, wrenching displacement of their lives and careers, through no fault of their own? How would we react to being shut in and told to fear proximity to other people? How would we deal with spine-chilling predictions of millions of our fellow countrymen and women suddenly being hospitalized and dying?
If ever there was a situation ripe for a widespread mental health crisis, it was this. But it was almost impossible to stop and recognize, not to mention quantify, the actual damage to our individual and collective psyche in real time, as each of us was trying just to get through one day at a time.
But now, the full, devastating toll of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health has for the first time been quantified in an exhaustive study published in The Lancet, the results of which are at once shocking, unsurprising, and devastating. While four to five million souls across over 200 affected nations have perished from COVID, according to multiple estimates, more than 25 times that number – 129 million – have suffered serious mental disorders.
In evaluating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health across the globe, researchers conducted a systematic review of 48 sets of data on the prevalence of depressive or anxiety disorders that were representative of the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic, working with a pre-pandemic baseline between January 1, 2020, and January 29, 2021.
The conclusion: The locations hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020, as measured by decreased human mobility and daily infection rate, had the greatest increases in prevalence of major depressive and anxiety disorders. This is consistent with a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing a similar correlation between the frequency of anxiety and depression and the average number of daily cases. In all, the Lancet study estimates that an additional 53 million cases of major depression and an additional 76 million instances of serious anxiety disorders have occurred worldwide due to COVID-19.
Another recent study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost a third of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression even months past the peak of the pandemic, between late April and early May 2021. That is triple the number from 2019 before the onset of the pandemic. And one more current study by the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded, unsurprisingly, that government lockdowns, mandates, and shuttered schools particularly impact poor families and racial minorities.
For most of us, this research validates what we have witnessed with our own eyes. It has been nothing short of a mass psychological conflagration, which we have all been forced to endure though not all have survived physically or mentally. And the current overheated political climate, with the vaccinated elite characterizing the unvaccinated as the new deplorables – the dregs of society – and mask and vaccine mandates flying fast and furious, is only making an already tragic situation that much worse.
Acting and governing as if we are still in the throes of a crisis that sent people into a mental tailspin in the nightmare year of 2020 will only contribute to the already disturbed emotions of tens of millions of people who continue to feel insecure and unmoored from normal life, worried that their world will never be the same. Political leaders seizing the opportunity to exercise yet more control over our lives are doing more than exercising power. Given the now-quantified mental toll this plague on humanity, and its accompanying lockdowns and mandates, have exacted on untold millions of people, they are playing with fire.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.