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Before the COVID-19 outbreak affected every segment of the population, in what feels like another lifetime, Americans lived a life of collective malaise. And whether you realised it or not, our way of life was subverting your true, genuine happiness. Our suicide rates wouldn’t stop rising – a number that had climbed 30% between 2000 and 2016. Indeed, America was bursting at the seams with emotional pain.
Some of you may not agree with me, but I believe that our leaders could have made a number of different choices; choices that would make us less financially vulnerable, isolated and fearful, but they didn’t.
It was an America with one core belief: rugged Individualism. Or put another way ‘You’re on your own!’
Individualism as a value has many merits. In fact, numerous studies have shown that cultural change towards increasing individualism might positively affect interpersonal relationships and well-being. But, sadly, America’s report card – if issued four months ago – would be best torn up before seen by others.
That said, I’d like to state some facts about our country’s distinguishing features so we’re not talking in abstractions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of much of what the American Experiment has achieved, along with our accomplishments as a nation.
But as you go over these points, think about how we’re at an inflection point that affords us a unique opportunity.
Imagine eliminating, or even just minimising, any of these American realities:
- On any given day, and in any sort of setting, it’s not unlikely you could get shot.
- On any given day you could be completely wiped out financially by a health crisis or death in the family.
- Are you black? You and your loved ones are in serious danger of dying or being seriously injured at the hands of the police; those police will likely pay no price.
Just three. And how do these factors interact with our mental health during quarantine? If you’re clinically depressed and/or anxious for the first time due to quarantine, it’s natural to want to resume activities.
The situation is very much the same for those who were clinically depressed before quarantine because it probably got even worse these last several months. I know this for fact because I belong to this group.
As with so many people, lockdown has been brutal for me: I’ve been chomping at the bit since day one. My meds needed increasing and therapy moved from monthly to weekly. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But we really, really need to think about what we’re going back to clearly and objectively before we fall back into the old, miserable routines. They aren’t even ‘comfortable’ anymore in spite of the familiarity.
As we recover from this as a nation, we find ourselves facing an economic reality that will rival the Great Depression. This could be our last chance to go for broke. History shows that there are two things we can be sure of when it comes to any kind of crises: there will be another one, and the next one won’t be the same as the last. Readiness requires imagination and bold action. So here’s my one simple message: let’s rebuild, not modify.