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Why we need to think communally in lockdown

  • 29 July 2021
Vaccine comparisons. Mass protests. Interstate sniping. Quarantine complaints. Community scapegoating. The pandemic soundtrack closes around us like an ever-tightening girdle; each new statistic and flash of opinion and political obfuscation turns the screw further. The daily press conferences have become morbid viewing, sound clips looping on endless repeat, channels of doom. As the miasma invades my psyche I realise it’s not the lockdown or even the pandemic causing the greatest distress; it’s the dissent emanating like scattershot from the calamity’s core. Everywhere I look, it seems, there is something ready to flay my already-scorched nerves.

If the virus hasn’t infected us yet, the discourse around it most certainly will. But inoculating oneself against such dissent is almost impossible, for the antidote to physical isolation — gatherings in the online village square — is itself rife with infection.

Social networks are essential to our collective mental wellbeing, but the social media channels standing in for them at such times as these frequently reinforce the divide. With no liberation from this pandemic in sight, how do we gird ourselves against the mental fatigue and anguish it is wreaking and the mistrust it has sown?

‘You cannot actually be well — have a strong sense of wellbeing — while those around you are unwell. And humans are actually much more sensitive to that than they like to pretend,’ says Professor Ian Hickie, Co-director of Health and Policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, in a discussion with Geraldine Doogue on ABC RN’s Saturday Extra.

‘Rather than asking “Are you okay?” we need to ask “Are we okay?’’’

It’s a pertinent question posed at a time when community cohesion is rapidly crumbling. The value of collective wellbeing embodied by church, sporting and community groups has been eroded with diminishing membership. As the world is riven by unprecedented upheaval and disconnection, we risk becoming the snake determined to eat its own tail; for who will vouch for us, if we have turned on each other?  

‘[Social connection] has declined with this fierce focus on the individual — “Am I okay inside my own head?” as distinct from “Is the world I’m in, the social world on which I depend… healthy?”’ says Professor Hickie.

When framed this way, the question presents a perspective-shift which can help us mentally expand the protective net from our individualistic selves to the broader society in which we live and the online community inhabited by