This has been a hard year, hasn’t it? We are only halfway through but I think it is safe to say that for many of us it has been the hardest in living memory. Some of us have lost loved ones. Others have lost jobs and livelihoods. Even if we have been fortunate enough to escape these horrors, there have been other hardships that were unimaginable just six months ago: loneliness, isolation, the inability to hold and touch the people we love most.
In a stark warning made last month, the UN said that the pandemic would not just affect people’s physical health, but also their mental health. ‘After decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental-health services, the Covid-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress,’ UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message. ‘Even when the pandemic is brought under control, grief, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people and communities.’ His comments were backed up by the World Health Organization. ‘We know that the current situations, the fear and uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress,’ said Devora Kestel, head of the WHO’s mental health and substance use department.
Having worked for some years in mental-health campaigning, I have been thinking a lot about how we face these challenges. I hope that governments will stop neglecting mental-health services, but I’ve also been asking myself, what are the things that we can all do right now to help us through this miserable year? And I have come up with only one answer, only one thing we can do to turn these huge negatives into positives: we will rise. We will grow.
As I sit here and watch the climbing death toll from this awful illness, I think to myself: we will not allow these people to have died for nothing. We will not have lost so much of what we hold dear for no reason whatsoever other than a random virus that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. We will take this awful year, and we will mine it for gold: we will vow never to return to those parts of our lives that didn’t work before lockdown.
We will shrug off everything negative and toxic that has held us down: the people, places and things that didn’t work back then and certainly don’t work now. We will never again take for granted those we love. We will ask for help when we need it, and we will give it when someone asks it of us, because life is too short. Really, it is too short.
We will let our children know that learning is important but love is more so; and we will let people in positions of power know that there is nothing more important than health and well-being, so they’d better damn well invest in it. We will remember, even in our bleakest moments, that most growth actually happens in the dark. That soon the light will come, if we just hold on.