Depression and mental health in the Age of the Pandemic. Part 1 in Daydreaming on the Porch

  • Aug. 28, 2020, 7:29 a.m.
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  • Public

Despite glimmers of hope for a vaccine during this pandemic season, and the fact that the economy seems to be crawling back ever so slightly from the precipice of its five-month free fall of lost jobs and hopes, the news is grim. Wildfires seem to be burning up the state of California, the worse hurricane since 1856 struck southern Louisiana, my home state, and the pandemic continues to sicken and kill thousands. Add to this horrible mix the spectacle of a Republican cult following re-nominating the fascist president we have the unspeakable misfortune of having to endure, and you have all the ingredients for tumbling optimism and dismay. How is it possible that such a large portion of the population can be so easily led over a cliff? All we have to do is study history to find the answer.

I read yesterday that it looks like millions of people face having their water cut off because they wont be able to pay water bills once the moratorium on cutoffs due to the pandemic expires soon. That will probably be followed by electric utilities cutting off power to those same people. It’s hard to wrap my head around this dystopian scenario that will unfold once the full effects of 33 million newly unemployed and counting, to the tune of a million a week, show up to further devastate the economy.

I’m sorta numb tonight as I ponder all this. I think there’s also going to be a huge wave of mental health issues among a population pummeled by stress and uncertainty about how they’re going to survive without ending up on the street. Can you imagine the levels of depression people are going to start having? When you’re going to food banks and wondering how you’re going to pay the rent or mortgage and have any kind of decent health insurance, or none at all, you are going to have to face dealing with that terrible “black dog” called depression. Usually, but not always, there’s a precipitating factor that triggers full-blown depression. When in our lifetimes have their been so many disasters and precipitating events that are beyond our control? Not only is there a fast-spreading and deadly disease that can lead to a lifetime of health problems, but there’s the menacing and awful prospect of long-term unemployment.

I don’t think the media and the population in general appreciate or understand how terribly and permanently unemployment affects people’s lives. I’m talking about loss of a job or career at a time in people’s lives when they are still far from retirement and need a job to pay the rent or mortgage and put food on the table. I’m retired and fortunate enough to have the basic necessities now, including a nice place to live. That hasn’t always been true. In the past I’ve suffered for prolonged periods of time from depression and subsequent unemployment.

Years ago I tried to convey in something I wrote what it’s like to wake up every morning with no prospects and no hope on the horizon for a way out.

Because of the huge federal add-ons to unemployment benefits, as well as moratoriums on utility cut-offs, we haven’t seen what might have been a tidal wave of joblessness and homelessness. We might be seeing that soon.

The depression that could afflict people who have lost everything is not temporary sadness for what they’ve lost, but a deep, gut-wrenching despair that makes it difficult to even get out of bed much less apply for 200 jobs online with no luck.

I was able to come out of two bouts with major depression over the past 40 years, each of which which kept me unemployed and debilitated for many long months, up to a year. I wrote in a text message to someone the other day that I felt like I was literally losing my mind.

I think we are going to have to deal with the mental health consequences of this new Great Depression and realize that major depression is very real and deadly serious.

Sometimes in the past, poetry has been the only way to really describe the kind of depression I experienced. People in great numbers today and in the near future are going to need mental health services. We are only six months into a global pandemic. Do people even realize what could be ahead, or are they getting numb like me.

Mourning Dove
I awoke to a gentle coo-cooing,
a simple sound
under ordinary circumstances,
but ominous then:
a mourning dove.
A dove, you would think, gentle?

Sunrises with mourning dove
awake with sleep’s refuge ended,
trying to stave off the unthinkable;
to pretend in my first moments
upon awakening
that it’s all a dream;
it’s okay; everything’s normal;
you have a reason for being,
for existing.

I remember it well:
20 degrees outside,
and still this one
live, sad, bird
alone in winter, staying put,
perched on a bare limb
somewhere outside my window.
No other sound but his
breaking the hush
of that tremulously forboding
new day beginning
or maybe it was ending
in one of those short, short evenings.

And I knew I had to get up eventually
and face this new day
that would be like the ones before
with its fearfully intense

The sun would rise,
the skies would be clear.
But I could not appreciate this miracle,
the way I was then.
Nothing much to grasp at;
no dry and brittle little straw
to put between clenched teeth,
even in sleep.
Just numbness.

I couldn’t hear a reveille
if it stared me in the face,
But I’d hear that mourning dove.

That black fog turned day into night
as soon as it dawned clear and cold.
What consciousness of this?

Arise, and find the day had nothing to say,
but it waited for me,
an ordinary-seeming day.

I hear the mourning dove again.
There’s a different sound about it,
but a somber one, still.
It makes me wistfully sad
until I hear the mockingbird
with it’s incautious,
jubilant song of joy
which makes me happy
every time I hear it.

I no longer notice
nor do I care that the innocent dove,
whom someone decided was in mourning,
is perhaps happy, too,
in its native language,
monotonous and joyless;
content, maybe?

I only know there is a difference.
A vast difference
between the sad song I heard then,
and the tender song
I might hear now,
if I tried.

Last updated August 28, 2020

LittleAvocado August 28, 2020

Hi Oswego! It's me Sammy from OD. Why is everyone switching to PB??? I think if we do get a vaccine, what are the probabilities that it will work?

Marg August 28, 2020

Excellent rendition of what true depression is like.
Trying to get across to people how scared I was when I finally had to give up my job at almost 57 after my illness took over seemed nigh on impossible. I couldn't understand why they just did not get it - facing at least 8 years with no money coming in and an illness which meant further work was impossible - but I suppose if you haven't been in the situation maybe it's just unfathomable to imagine? I think you're right - the repercussions of what we've just been through are going to be felt for a long time to come.

Jinn September 01, 2020

I agree that I fear our country is on the brink of physical and emotional disaster. We are just seeing the start and already our cities are burning , people are killing each other and themselves.

Kristi1971 September 03, 2020

The depression is even worse when you can't get out of bed, but you don't even have a bed to get out of in the first place.

I think it's even worse, because the depression is also going to hit those who are employed but their lives are still turned upside down and there is no hope in sight.

Oswego Kristi1971 ⋅ September 03, 2020

Yes, it could be like a tidal wave of mental illness induced by the pandemic — people who have never experienced major depression before. That’s what scares me.

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