Holiday shutdown restrictions are an assault on American values — and our mental health is the collateral damage

Holiday shutdown restrictions: the latest wave of lockdowns in PA, aimed primarily at Thanksgiving and the holiday season, will only further isolate those feeling the most isolated and deteriorate residents’ mental health.

Next week is Thanksgiving, and here in Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine has mandated that people not gather and share the holiday with those who live outside of their homes. She admits that there’s no way to enforce this, but as we lock down again for at least the next six weeks people feel the crucial community with which we share our holidays slipping away.

Those most vulnerable to mental illness — the elderly, children and residents who live alone – are being told to tough it out and hunker down for a long, lonely stretch that will render this holiday season unrecognizable.

Holiday shutdown restrictions

The problem is that mental illness does not respond well to “toughing things out” and long, lonely stretches of isolation. We are paying an indefensibly high price to combat Covid-19, a price that includes people’s livelihoods and education as well as their mental health.

Countless people will march for causes that are distant from their lives in the name of social justice. However, the most socially just thing we can do, the most important act of love we can express to positively impact the world we share, is to sit down with a few special people and eat turkey, watch football games, argue about politics, loosen our belts and share something so small and simple that we lose sight of the fact that it is the very reason we live.

 

People who advocate for big sweeping solutions to society’s intractable problems all too often lose sight of the importance of community. Small communities. Local communities. Individuals who come together by blood and by choice. Countless people will march for causes that are distant from their lives in the name of social justice. However, the most socially just thing we can do, the most important act of love we can express to positively impact the world we share, is to sit down with a few special people and eat turkey, watch football games, argue about politics, loosen our belts and share something so small and simple that we lose sight of the fact that it is the very reason we live.

We lose sight of that fact until it’s gone. Then the gravity of that loss risks crushing us with depression, anxiety and grief.

I fully understand the implications of what I am writing. I fully understand the risk of ignoring public health policy and reaching out in-person and gathering anyway. That’s because I also understand the risk to our mental health, a crisis that may rival Covid-19 if we face the holidays alone instead of with our loved ones.

My uncle died of the coronavirus. His family is extraordinarily careful in avoiding any further infections. They know the loss this virus can cause. They couldn’t mourn together. They couldn’t hold each other. And now they can’t fully be there for each other for the first holiday they’ll spend without their husband/father/grandfather.

The government has no right to tell us that if we take the proper precautions we can’t celebrate this most holy time of year together. The crush of Covid cases is alarming, but most people, overwhelmingly so, recover from the virus.

I’m sorry, but some rules are made to be broken. People need each other, and in a time when we commiserate in deep traditions, in a time when we come together to eat cranberry sauce, fill stockings or light candles, holiday shutdown restrictions and Zoom doesn’t cut it.

This shutdown is in place because some people have been irresponsible. But it is possible to be responsible and come together safely. Our mental health depends on it.

The government has no right to tell us that if we take the proper precautions we can’t celebrate this most holy time of year together. The crush of Covid cases is alarming, but most people, overwhelmingly so, recover from the virus.

Mental illness not so much. We shouldn’t invite an epidemic of mental illness by draconian measures to avoid a treatable physical illness. We as families know who among us is high risk for Covid-19 and we know how to protect them and do not need holiday shutdown restrictions. Our minds are weaker and require love and community, ritual and tradition. Those are the things that keep us mentally healthy, and those are the things that make life worth living.


 

George Hofmann is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, their daughter and two poorly behaved dogs. He is a friend of David Pasqualone and has appeared on the Remarkable People Podcast, as well as contributed other articles to this blog and a guided biblical meditation example for you to benefit from and enjoy.

This article first appeared in the newsletter Practicing Mental Illness.


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