Recently I have seen several posts on r/coronavirusuk from users who are lockdown supporters, but who feel they are not mentally strong enough to endure the next few months of lockdowns. Partly as a response to this, I have written the following post that outlines some of the psychological impacts that I have felt over the course of the last 10 months, speaking as someone who was skeptical about lockdowns from their inception.
In terms of mental impacts, we share the individual + societal consequences of Lockdown policies, including:
- Decline in mental health due to loneliness; increases in depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, abuse of alcohol and drugs.
- Increase in domestic violence and child abuse
- Increase in unemployment due to unprecedented economic collapse; destruction of businesses which may have taken lifetimes and generations to build up.
- Inability to access regular health and community services; easily treatable conditions becoming more severe due to massive increase in waiting lists. Unnecessary discomfort and physical pain in day to day life is extremely detriminal to mental wellbeing.
- Viewing other members of society as potential disease carrying vectors; an increased culture of snitching on others for not correctly adhering to the rules
- A constant stream of media messaging that focuses on death and infection figures (whilst it is appropriate to keep the public informed, with so little else in people’s lives this can result in an unhealthy mental state)
- Destruction of local communities; local high streets destroyed, to be replaced with online ordering and at home delivery services. The loss of local communities makes people feel more adrift and less connected to their local area.
- Regression of children’s development due to interuption of normal education; Knowing that this tremendous burden is being placed on the youngest generation, who have missed a vital stage of education and who grow up not seeing other people’s faces, is devastating to accept.
- Lives “becoming smaller” — a decrease in overall quality of life experiences; limited travel, restaurants / cafes closed, many sports cancelled, other life enriching activities + hobbies unavailable, which would otherwise bring diversity and meaning to people’s lives
However, holding significant doubts about the efficacy of lockdowns has made the last year even more psychologically difficult to deal with, for the following reasons:
- Belief that this is “all for the greater good”. Whilst the above pain is being endured, for the pro-lockdowners it is clearly a source of strength and encouragement that their sacrifices are having a positive impact on the state of the world; their misery is saving lives. I would ask such people to imagine how they would feel if it could be shown objectively that few or no lives had been saved as a result of such disruptions to life.
- “Buying in” to the project – It is far harder to accept restrictions and measures when they are being forced upon you against your will. For example, when the mask mandates were introduced in the UK, as a skeptic it was far harder to accept, knowing that the evidence for their efficacy was so thin. It is demoralising and humiliating to be forced to do something your rational mind knows to be futile. By contrast, if you are happy to “buy in” to the Government’s edicts, you will not feel this sense of self struggle.
- A refusal to consider the negative impacts – There has been frustratingly few pro-lockdowners who are honest enough to fully explore the medium to long term impact of the policies they advocate. The focus seems to be on emotional messaging regarding the impacts of deaths and overwhelmed hospitals, instead of having a real conversation regarding trade offs. This is enormously depressing, because good public policy is never reached by appealing to emotion and fear.
- Watching the world change overnight – Personally, I watched as the brand new concepts of lockdowns, flattening the curve and saving the NHS became a national religion. My own friends changed, becoming judgmental and dismissive of any view that did not conform to the mainstream narrative. In response to a culture of panic and fear, people were willing to do anything to “stop the spread”. For me, this was extremely isolating — at that point I knew very few other social contacts who were expressing doubts, and it made me feel like I was losing my grip on reality.
- All previous scientific norms disregarded – Unfalsifiable arguments such as using computer modelling to prove the “success” of lockdowns, non-peer reviewed articles being used to shape policy, associative studies being used to override decades of high quality randomised control studies, previous recommendations from the CDC and WHO dismissed or quietly rewritten. Knowing that science is being abused in this way, whilst also being told to “Follow The Science” is an assault on rationality itself.
- Being dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist” – I have spent a large part of my adult life arguing against 9/11 Truthers, Moon Landing was fakers, anti-vaxxers. To be told that applying my usual tools of skepticism + critical thinking to the new claims of “we can stop a virus by stopping society” was both insulting and demoralising.
- The overwhelming one-sided messaging on mainstream and social media – TV news has become almost unwatchable, with very little time dedicated to the arguments that go against the popular lockdown narrative. Likewise, on most social media, anti-lockdown posts are bombarded by mobs that will accuse you of being a “Covidiot”, “Granny Killer”, “Corporate Shill” etc. In this context, having a civilized conversation to even air your views becomes impossible.
- Political failure – the normal mechanisms of democracy in the UK which are supposed to protect against an over-zealous Government have all failed. The House of Commons, The House of Lords, the courts, the media have all failed to protect individual civil rights. The realisation that democracy could fail so spectacularly by allowing “rule by decree”, has perhaps been the hardest pill to swallow.
I write the above in the hope that others might recognise the points raised, and perhaps find comfort in knowing you are not alone in feeling this way. I would also hope that, to a lockdown supporter, it would give some insight into a skeptic’s frame of mind and allow some greater empathy to our position.
I sincerely hope that our society can heal and rebuild the bonds of fellowship which have been so strained by the events of the last year.
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