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The Other Pandemic: The Lockdown Mental Health Crisis

The original rationale for COVID lockdowns and strict social distancing was to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm hospitals with too many acutely ill patients. We have accomplished that: though things came close in New York City, demand for ventilators in the U.S. has not exceeded our hospitals’ surge capacity. But in many states the lockdowns continue, and nobody speaks of “flattening the curve” any more. What is the current rationale for these severe measures?

The political rhetoric now suggests we are “saving lives” by continuing to keep people at home. But locking down alone does not in the end save lives; it only slows the spread of the virus. The (usually unspoken) hope of politicians is that we can do this until we have an effective vaccine. That is an enormous gamble based on an axiomatic faith in science to solve our problems, which actually cannot be justified scientifically. After all, it is plausible that scientists created this virus in a lab in the first place—a claim no longer in the realm of conspiracy theory.

Our Mental Health Crisis

Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. I would suggest this is not simply because of the pandemic; more accurately, it is due to our collective decisions, our social policies, in response to the pandemic. We would expect a pandemic of this magnitude to adversely impact our mental health. But the duration and scope of the current mental health crisis was not inevitable.

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