Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash
Shared experience: uncertainty
Despite the stark differences, one experience most share in this present moment is that of constant change; of having to live with an ever-receding horizon of certainty. On this shifting terrain, predictions and rules are both desired and contested. Phrases like the “new normal” reassure us we are in fact transitioning between orders, past and future; a path leading through questions about intimate and everyday living: When to see and hug each other, how to visit our elders, go to the pub or on a date, or send the kids to school? The infectious nature of the virus makes it so that none of these questions can be answered in isolation or by an individual alone; the answers found will always affect others. In other words, the pandemic brings us into view as profoundly social and interconnected beings. Questions about the everyday then quickly become those of larger orders: What kind of community, society, or environment do we want to live in and require to be well? Rupture and change bring disorientation and unease, but also new perspectives. Many have been spurred into re-thinking and protesting the current social order, for example, its grounding in environmental destruction, extractive capitalism, and structural racism. Normality, so yearned for in its absence, may not be worth returning to unchanged.
What may this year’s WMHD theme “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access” mean against this backdrop, and how is the meaning of its longstanding premises itself changing through the pandemic?
Care under Covid-19: disrupted, digital, lay-ified
The mental health of many is predicted to be strained – from the loss of life, loved ones, and livelihoods, the hardships of isolation or conflict under lockdown, and the fear and trauma experienced by key workers and marginalized members of society at higher risk of infection. At the same time, mental health services as we know them - and where they exist – are, according to the WHO, severely disrupted due to “the risk of infection in […] care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19.” WHO’s call to expand the responsibilities for mental wellbeing and care is then not only directed at health care officials, but at a much broader cast – friends, family members, employers, governments, health professionals, and journalists – who, each in their own domain, are asked to “do something life-affirming” on World Mental Health Day. The notions of “greater investment, greater access” here begin to broaden beyond an epidemiological and economic calculations of coverage and a “return on investment” for every dollar put into formal care. With economies impacted by the pandemic themselves, losses and gains of productivity have become uncertain, too, and new rationales to care and advocate for mental health are coming to the fore.