Anxiety is an ordinary consequence of being sane and if you fail to feel it during a major pandemic, you probably need help. Depression, too, is to be expected if you’re dealing with broken work routines, precarious earnings, threadbare television, confusing government announcements or the scores of things we’ve recently had to add to our worry lists.
But I’m a ‘vulnerable’ 70-year-old, so all this is overshadowed by the raw reality that the possible effects of the virus include, as well as anxiety and depression, a lonely and unpleasant death.
We tend, even if we’re in the undertaking or terminal care trades, to think that death, the only certainty in life, won’t apply to us. This is why, over the centuries, millions of people have marched willingly to war and why, right now, so many are stressing the possible psychological or economic effects of the virus rather than acknowledging the fact that, worldwide, it will leave hundreds of thousands dead, possibly including me.
Of course fretting about the non-fatal effects of the virus can be dismissed as a predictable displacement activity – a feeling that, with death knocking at the door, it’s time to change the subject. But the current spike in depression and anxiety is real enough and may be terrible for some; it’s just that diphtheria or smallpox would generally be a lot worse.
I’ve long been suspicious of the idea, which has become a sort of universally-agreed wisdom, that we should give the same status to mental illness as we give to physical illness, assuming there are enough physiologists in the world to separate the two, which there probably aren’t.
Like all 70-year-olds, I’ve seen the awful effects of severe illnesses, both ‘physical’ and ‘mental’, but most diseases, complaints and conditions could best be regarded, especially in the age of Covid-19, as trivial, or at least bearable.
Ordinary headaches, ordinary colds, indigestion, feeling anxious while waiting for exam results, feeling down because you can’t cheer on your team… they all, as they so often put it now, have an impact on your mental wellbeing, but they hardly ever kill you.