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Resilience is, well, resilient… February 25, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

A very useful addition to the research conducted during the pandemic is reported here in the Observer this last weekend. Richard Bentall, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sheffield, details research he and others have conducted over the course of the outbreak into mental health. And rather than the ‘tsunami’ of ‘mental health problems’ that some, particularly on the Covid-denial, or soft-denial, end of the spectrum point to the research finds a much more nuanced picture and some important results, not least:

…only a few studies have examined changes that have occurred since that first lockdown period, and when these changes are examined a different picture emerges. We have seen an overall reduction in the number of people who report “above threshold” levels of psychiatric symptoms and similar findings have been reported by other research groups. This picture of adaptation and resilience should not be surprising because we know from previous research that individual, interpersonal traumas (for example, sexual assaults) are far more mentally damaging than collective traumas such as natural disasters. This is at least in part because strong social bonds protect people against stress and, during a crisis, people often come together to help each other, creating a sense of belonging and a shared identity with neighbours.

This is – surely, heartening to those of us who place any value in societal and communal and collective endeavours. And perhaps suggests in part why some would be more comfortable with narratives of atomisation, isolation and so on. And indeed how those narratives might become politicised in certain ways.

And he raises a key point:

At the same time, it is important to recognise that average levels of psychological symptoms in the population could never be particularly informative. Even if there really were a tidal wave of mental illness washing over the population, what would anyone be able to do about it (it would not be possible to install a clinical psychologist in every neighbourhood)?

And there’s a degree of bad faith amongst some using this line of a ‘tsunami’ because they being right of centre or libertarian do not themselves support the sort of measures required to address any such tsunami.

He also notes:

when we use advanced statistical methods to discover different patterns of change, we see that the majority of the population (56.5% in the case of anxiety and depression) have been resilient, showing no evidence of mental illness at any time. These are contrasted with a small group who have been unwell throughout (6.5%), some who have deteriorated after starting with low (17%) or moderate symptoms (11.5%) and some who have shown considerable improvement in their mental health (8.5%). So, in total, about a quarter of the population is doing badly. This picture of what we might call “different slopes for different folks” does not look like a tsunami.

None of this is to suggest people aren’t bored, frustrated, weary and so on of the pandemic. Anything but. But these are not in and of themselves emotions and responses that require the sort of measures that more deep-rooted mental health issues do. Of course they do require responses and crafting means to engage with the end of the pandemic, or more likely the amelioration of same, will require nuance and skill and investment as well as seeing about supports in the here and now.

And that leads to another point he makes:

We found that the economic threats associated with the pandemic were most linked with symptoms, whereas exposure to the virus seemed to have little effect (although very few of our sample have required hospital treatment and we know from other studies that those who do are very likely to suffer from persisting post-traumatic stress disorder).

Economic concerns – the fear that jobs long held will fade away due to the length of lockdowns and other measures – are very very real, and that is on government to address directly by supporting areas of the economy which have – in a sense – had to shelter from the virus. For some this pandemic is quite literally a matter of life and death and one where the arrival of vaccines is essential. For many others it is not, at least not directly. For those latter cohorts a boring pandemic is one thing. A pandemic where people have lost jobs is quite another. Incorrect narratives about tsunami’s of mental health problems don’t assist in the slightest in the very real measures necessary to ensure that – ironically, the pandemic is dull rather than anxiety inducing.


1. FergusD - February 25, 2021

Shortly after the first lockdown started someone in my neighbourhood started a WhatsApp group for it. Word got around somehow and it really took off. People messaged to help older, isolated residents. Doctors asked for scrubs (really! We had some our son left when went to Oz). All sorts of stuff is shared and given away. Same thing has happened in many places.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2021

I love to hear of that sort of collective action. Agree completely.


2. crocodileshoes - February 25, 2021

A friend of mine has worked in mental health all her life and I’ve never heard anyone so furious as she was when she heard someone ring Joe Duffy from the Canaries and claim his holiday was for his ‘mental health’. After decades of battling for fair funding, she says, she now has to listen to people use the ‘mental health’ card every time they mean ‘because I want to’.
It’s a delicate area, of course. Who wouldn’t sympathise with someone’s mental health struggles? My friend’s answer is simple: if it’s self-diagnosed, it’s not mental illness. And she’d add that every ‘my struggle’ interview done by a celebrity or influencer is dissipating the focus that desperately needs to be put on those who are really suffering, not just, you know, going through a rough spell.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2021

I think that’s key. The distinction between less severe emotional responses (which are understandable) and more severe emotional and mental responses which are equally understandable but of a much more serious nature. Any of us can complain and understandably about say – for me, the lack of opportunity to visit friends and family or see a gig or go to a bookshop, but I’ve had some experience of depression in my late teens and twenties and briefly in my thirties and it is a completely different thing – just not like and like. I find the current situation wearing but – I can only speak for myself – I’m not worn out by it mentally. Now some are and there have to be supports for them.But this loose use of language is infuriating.


3. crocodileshoes - February 25, 2021

Mark Hilliard in the Irish Times refers to a survey of people who ‘self-identify as depressed’. Have we not left behind the days when people threw around misapplied clinical terms as colloquialisms ( ‘schizophrenic’, ‘paranoid’)? That kind of thing is an insult to mental health professionals and those who have clinical depression. What next? Self-identifying with appendicitis? Leprosy?


4. CL - February 26, 2021

” Gardaí received 43,000 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents in 2020, an increase of 16% on the previous year…..
A peer-reviewed study carried out between March and June 2020 revealed significant increases in depression, anxiety and stress compared to pre Covid-19 days,….
And what of the concerns about an effective testing and tracing system?
In a recent interview the Taoiseach tentatively engaged with this issue as if it were some new important discovery….
Adding that “the end is truly in sight” was also a dubious assertion by the Taoiseach when, on the same day, the recovery plan – that he unveiled – warned that next winter “there are real risks that we may face the same challenges in controlling Covid-19 and protecting our health service as we did during this winter”.


5. CL - February 26, 2021

” Clearly Stephen Donnelly is possessed of a certain level of intelligence; at this stage he has built up a certain amount of political experience. One political source said he was certainly not incompetent but that it was impossible to fathom why he behaves as he does. A Department of Health source said he was “a nice fella, decent company” but it was clear he did not prepare for media interviews….

On a broader view the public performances of the minister mean that the HSE and its chief executive, Paul Reid, have overtaken the Department in terms of authority. Dr Holohan can be seen to stand well apart as head of Nphet. Paul Reid now has a far higher and more assured media presence than the minister.
Within Fianna Fáil there is a lack of warmth for Donnelly where he is seen as a cuckoo in the nest after joining from the Social Democrats in 2017, apparently after being promised a cabinet position by Micheál Martin if the situation arose…..
It is not easy to be Minister for Health in a pandemic. The pressure has no doubt been added to with the recent erection of a 6ft security fence after “a number of incidents” outside the home the Minister shares with his wife and three young children. Such thuggery is inexcusable at a politician’s home but all the more so during a high-pressure time like this.
But on a wider level — whether it is to do with vaccines, quarantine, hospital waiting lists, or how to deal with letters from Nphet — Irish citizens deserve someone in the role of Minister for Health who has their confidence and respect. Increasingly that cannot be said of Stephen Donnelly.”


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