The pandemic has swept the world in a panic. It has come with the pervading sense of fear and loss, and completely unexpectedly to the common man. Although environmentalists have been predicting a rise in pandemics as a consequence of the same things that caused climate change, to the layman, it arrived out of the blue.
The pandemic has taken away several things that make us social beings. Physical touch, gatherings, dining together etc. have all gone from being something one does for fun to something that could be potentially fatal.
It does not come as a shock that people all of the globe are suffering during the pandemic. While they are unsure of how much longer this will go on, the spread of the vaccines make people hopeful that it will soon come to an end.
When the pandemic ends, what will it leave behind?
The anxiety of being
With fatal illness and massive death-tolls, anxiety comes as an almost inevitable companion. The compulsive act of using hand sanitizer after touching anything in public is slowly becoming second nature.
A US study comparing the number of adults experiencing symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder saw the number raise from 11% in January 2019 to 41.1% in January 2021. It also showed an increase in suicidal ideation and substance use.
Another unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is a possible rise in agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a specific anxiety disorder. It is defined by a fear of being in part of a public environment or activity from which leaving or escaping is perceived to be difficult. Due to the frequent and persistent lockdowns and the association of danger with being in public spaces, the slip towards agoraphobia is understandable.
An integral part of the human experience is physical touch. While some may be isolating with family, there are many people all over the world who are living along in the middle of the pandemic. The pandemic may also lead to an increase in ‘touch-starvation’ as the stress relieving hormone, oxytocin, is released through touch.
The prevalence of mental illness after a calamity is not a new phenomenon. The aftermath of war and natural disasters have left people suffering in its wake. This is, however, a calamity of global magnitude. Like the survivors of war, those who come out of this pandemic alive are going to carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
A state of grief
Aptly dubbed the ‘grief pandemic’ by sociologist Holly Prigerson, the Coronavirus pandemic has taken away many loved ones. Children are left orphaned and parents mourn their children. The elderly are kept under keen watch by their loved ones in fear that they, too, will be taken away.
Grief and mourning have become an everyday thing since the pandemic showed its full strength. With entire families being wiped out, and crematoriums unable to process the bodies at the rate at which they arrive, we as a society are experiencing death in high definition.
The processing of is complex. It is made more complex by the situation we are in. the constant anxiety and fear of safety are severely detrimental to the processing of grief. There is no room to process grief in a situation where death is continuous. As of now, we are in a persistent state of grief.
The economic implications of the pandemic have been spoken about often at a global scale. Small businesses have shut down. Daily wage laborers struggle to find jobs with the lockdowns in place. Several people who, before 2020, believed they were secure in their jobs, have been unexpectedly dismissed.
Survival in the middle of a pandemic, even without getting infected, with no incoming money is precarious. People are dependent of the goodwill of social workers and people who give out food, donations, etc. People are being rendered homeless because they are unable to pay rent. The inability to properly socially distance or isolate, however, increases the risk of infection.
If survival for the poor without getting infected is precarious, surviving COVID is a miracle. They have to combat steep prices for treatment, trouble with transportation, being unable to afford medication and several other issues.
Not only is getting infected and showing symptoms a death sentence for so many, it comes with the fear that it will bankrupt their family.
The state the economy is in right now has no quick fixes. There are small scale industries that have suffered in a way they may not recover from. An alarming percentage of medium and small enterprises have faced permanent closure. The recovery of the economy is going to a long, arduous process.
On a positive note
While the pandemic has been a cause of suffering for people everywhere, the long term social implications of it are not all bad.
For environmentalists, the pandemic has been proof that there can be no real solution to climate change until bog corporations stop contributing to it. With the common people staying at home most of the time, hugely reducing the amount of fuel used by the public, there has been no huge change in the state of the world.
While it may always be the socially responsible option to continue to use environmentally friendly options, the onus truly does fall on large corporations to limit their damage before it is unsalvageable.
It addition to this, curb-side pickups, online learning, work from home etc. have shown that it is possible to do these actions remotely. This opens up a whole realm of possibilities for people with disabilities not only in employment and education, but day to day activities.
When accessibility has been made possible because there is no other way, employers and management of educational institutes can no longer give excuses for their lack of accessibility for disabled employees or students.
The pandemic may leave behind a more accessible world.