Empathy begins by recognizing where somebody is at, mentally and emotionally, before and while engaging with them.
Imagine that you just lost someone to COVID and were mourning their death. And after sharing the sad news online in a vulnerable post, asking for people to be more responsible, somebody sent you this message:
“You’re right! We should just ban cars and meat-eating and alcohol and cigarettes because way more people die from those than any virus…especially one with a 99% recovery rate.”
Yet this is what I received in my inbox from a highly regarded leader within the “conscious” community. And this emotionally disconnected message is a representation of what my last article on New Age Narcissism was all about.
Let’s put aside how hurtful his message was to receive during a mourning process and instead dig into the actual debate points.
I can understand their pain to a certain extent, as I had to cancel all my events as well. But creating a safe space should always be the top priority for an event facilitator, and a part of that is being willing to not put on an event if it is no longer safe to do so.
Let’s not be mistaken. Throwing or attending events in 2020 was not a “service” to the community. It was to the detriment of it and may have unknowingly led to people’s deaths. And instead of acknowledging the reality of the situation, many people are making excuses and using flawed arguments to justify their own selfish actions.
I know the pain of losing a business due to COVID, but it will never match the pain of losing a loved one to it.
We continuously hear the 99% survival statistic, which fails to mention the millions of people who now have long term organ damage and have become long-haulers.
You would think that this is common sense, but it has to keep being restated for those who erroneously rely on the misguided “99 percent” argument:
A disease with a 1% death rate that is extremely contagious is far more deadly than a disease with a 10% death rate that is hardly contagious at all.
It is also essential to know the difference between direct and indirect deaths. Choosing to smoke cigarettes, eat meat, take drugs, or drink alcohol, are all personal choices that directly impact your own health. While they may not be healthy and can have dire consequences, a person can still live for many decades while making these personal choices, without necessarily causing a ripple effect that kills many people in the process. So please do not compare these things to a viral disease that can end your life within weeks and can be passed on unknowingly, causing many innocent people to either die or have lifelong damage. They are not comparable.
This person’s message to me went on to use an argument I have heard over and over again:
“What about the increase in suicide from a lack of social connection?”
We also see ignorant people like JP Sears blaming COVID for domestic violence and depression.
So let’s explore these arguments.
COVID and Suicide
Decisions have to be made on a risk versus reward basis, and these times are extremely difficult to make these choices in. However, using even a slight uptick in suicide as a justification to not have lockdowns or wear masks and to continue throwing events is not only politically weaponizing mental health but it also isn’t at all considering the millions of people who would have ended up dying or becoming long-haulers without these efforts.
Please stop using the tragedy of suicide as an argument point and excuse for being irresponsible with COVID precautions.
It is illogical to say that we should act irresponsibly for Cause of Death X, simply because of the existence of Cause of Death Y.
Obviously, acting irresponsibly for both Cause of Death X and Y combined is far more dangerous than one of them would be alone. The existence of one does not justify the irresponsible mismanagement of the other.
The one thing that we can agree on is that the situation has impacted our collective mental health.
But most people would rather lose their business, lose their job, or deal with the stress of the year than lose their life or a loved one. And if no lockdowns or masks were in place, one model predicts that 40 million people could have died. If that were the case, hundreds of millions of people would have lost someone they loved, which would have also had a negative impact on our collective mental health. This could have increased the suicide rate as well and still have caused global economic turmoil.
It’s too early to tell, but as of now, there isn’t any evidence that there was a massive jump in suicide like many media outlets predicted. Harvard Medical School Instructor, Dr. Fraust, performed a sensitivity analysis in his area. He concluded that “suicide rates in Massachusetts neither rose nor fell. Suicide rates did not change from expected rates at all. The notion that economic shutdowns themselves could pose a greater threat to the health and safety of communities than the uncontrolled spread of a disease (that has now killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide) was and remains an important idea to consider. But asserting a fact doesn’t make it true.”
“Claims about increasing suicide rates during COVID are not based on current available data and are unfounded,” said the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Emerging data from several countries show no evidence of increased suicide rates…”
Some even claim that more teenagers have died from suicide than COVID.
Although we currently do not have the data on it, if it ends up being true, it is important to acknowledge that teenagers are far less likely to die from COVID than older age groups (while at the same time being far more likely to attempt suicide). There is a difference between causation and correlation.
And we can see these defensive claims being played out in many different demographics, including festival-goers, ecstatic dancers, and burners (who participated in super spreader events like this one in Tulum). For those who don’t know, this is the new hot spot to find enlightenment.
Some have argued that it is actually a lack of social events that is causing people to kill themselves. But there is a difference between symptoms and root causes.
For example, humans have traveled in small tribes for centuries. Even before COVID, millions of people lived in isolation, were introverted or asocial, and did not attend huge gatherings every single week. However, people are not all the same. This year likely impacted extroverts in a different way. So this is not to downplay the importance of human connection. But nobody is out there advocating for complete isolation from all human beings—just for making responsible choices that minimize risk and promote consent, communication, and consideration for others.
I’m sorry, but it is not a tragedy for you to miss out on huge festivals and dance parties for a year. It is not the end of the world to have to stay in a small pod of friends to get your social desires met. If anything, it is an opportunity to work on yourself without distractions. It is an opportunity to tighten your circle and dive more in-depth with the people who actually love you, over event acquaintances that…kinda like you.
Many elderly people are stuck in complete isolation in nursing homes who would be extremely grateful to have a small pod of loved ones to spend time with, yet even having that is somehow not “enough” for some. This may be hard to believe for those folks, but most people don’t need to dance with hundreds of people in a small space every week in order to be okay. They don’t need to attend festivals and gatherings to feel a sense of belonging. Are they powerful and transformative? They sure could be. But acting like your “want” is actually a “need” and projecting your own addictive desire for regular social validation is more about you than anybody else.
The conscious community uses the word “needs” a lot—when those needs are actually just privileged “wants.”
If dance helps you, then dance! Dance alone. Dance on Zoom. Dance with your chosen small pod members. I understand why this is important for so many people. Dancing amongst community has been very therapeutic for me, but it’s also essential to recognize that something therapeutic is not the same thing as actual therapy. And if somebody is suicidal because they can’t dance in front of hundreds of people every week, then there is something far more critical that needs to be explored. And there is something far deeper that needs to be healed. No community or guru can save you from yourself.
An example: Detroit’s ballroom dance community rocked by coronavirus, including multiple deaths.
It’s also interesting to note that before any increases happened, suicides actually dropped during the first few months of the pandemic due to a psychological “we’re all in this together” effect.
For example, Colorado recorded a 40% decrease in suicides in March and April.
We saw something similar happen with crime rates, which dropped during the first few months of the pandemic, but then increased during the end of 2020 due to economic hardships finally hitting.
It does appear that suicide ideation is up, which is why it is even more critical that we discuss this topic now.
And that gets me to the main point of this article.
It is to refocus the conversation from blaming mental health challenges and crime on COVID lockdowns and instead highlighting what the real culprit is:
Unconscious capitalism and culture.
Blaming suicides strictly on COVID only shows how we still don’t truly understand the root cause of suicide and how our world isn’t built to support people who are struggling with mental health. We should be talking more about the lack of access to psychological support and where society’s morals and priorities are. Because these elements have led to far more suicides and deaths over the years and are the main reasons for many of the COVID suicides, to begin with.
All that COVID is doing is shining a flashlight and showing us how dependent we are on irresponsible capitalism for our mental and emotional health. It is revealing how a sadistic portion of our society values profit over human life. Suicide rates rose after the 2008 economic crash, yet nobody blames our society’s obsession with money for these suicides, even though there is an actual direct link.
In the midst of a pandemic, the United States alone spent nearly one trillion dollars on its military budget in 2020, which could have been used to provide education, shelter, food, and mental health support to its population instead. Yet nobody is posting outrage about our military spending the same way they do about our desire for healthcare and education. They threw us some crumbs with the intention of saving their own economy and not improving our actual lives on a consistent basis. And before somebody makes the argument point, I highly suggest studying the difference between communism, socialism, conscious capitalism, and democratic socialism. But this particular article is not about the pros and cons of each system, so I digress.
Anti-maskers have been attacking lockdowns for all the world’s problems instead of the economic structure we are under. And since we don’t actually know how bad things could have gotten without these measures, some anti-maskers assume that it definitely would have been better, even though there is a 100% guarantee that there actually would have been far more deaths and economic turmoil. We saw this happen in Sweden, which now has the highest mortality rate of all the Nordic countries.
If COVID happened in a world where there was access to mental health support and community…or if COVID occurred in a world where nobody had to worry about losing their home or not being able to feed their children—I can assure you that we wouldn’t see the same spike in suicides or crime.
Another debate point mentioned is that there is domestic abuse happening due to people being stuck at home.
This is unfortunately true, and once again, only highlights and magnifies a problem that already existed pre-COVID. And these victims will sadly still be abused after it is over, which is not acceptable. It is a tragedy that anybody has to go through domestic violence even one time. The only cause of domestic violence is the abusers themselves. Not the victims, nor external elements.
For those in this situation, there needs to be a safety net to help them get out. Not temporary breaks while their abuser goes to work in a COVID-free world. What then? Is society now suddenly okay with what’s happening simply because it is happening less often?
Did people who use these situations to back up their anti-shutdown claims ever care about these causes beforehand? Did they volunteer, donate, or serve as activists for social issues? Or just like the Save The Children hashtag, are they hijacking a cause and using our own empathy against us just to land a political point that is all talk and no action?
Instead of using these horrible situations as unrelated debate points, why don’t we help people get out of these situations altogether by creating more robust support systems that help them escape and rebuild their lives? Once again, this situation we’re in did not cause a lot of these problems. They only magnified them. And I hope that what we have seen and experienced this past year has been enough for society to change as a whole.
I know that it may be difficult to find the silver lining in the midst of all this chaos without tiptoeing over spiritual bypassing. Still, it’s worth exploring philosophically to at least try to find a bigger purpose to the gloom and doom of the situation we find ourselves in. The “collateral beauty” that has occurred during COVID can’t always be measured but is still real. For example, some people are alive today who wouldn’t have been in an alternative reality where there wasn’t COVID, such as, “stopped being bullied to the point of suicide while going to school” or “avoided a car accident on the way to work.”
Since fewer cars were on the road, it meant fewer accidents, a decreased demand for oil, and less pollution. And because of this, we saw the most considerable reduction in energy in 70 years. It is estimated that four million people die a year due to air pollution, which has decreased drastically in some areas and may save lives in the long run.
Yet, we don’t “blame” COVID for these lives that were hypothetically saved. Because they’re based on things we should be working on anyway and are mostly conceptual. But if we’re going to use hypothetical negatives, then we have to also consider theoretical positives. If for anything, to either bring balance or to debunk the argument altogether.
There are ripple effects beyond what we can measure, and there is a much larger dance playing out in all this. Let us focus on what we can change and let go of what we can’t. And let us accept things as they are instead of what we fear they may be in our own imaginations. Choose reality over hypotheticals and stop filling in the blank with fear-based unknowns and emotionally manipulative misinformation.
Eventually, a far more deadly disease or another global economic crash will happen. And when they do, all the people who are susceptible to mental health issues will still be impacted. This is why it is essential that we discuss causes and solutions instead of blaming a situational trigger. Especially because life is full of many of them, and we can’t ultimately prevent these situational triggers as much as we try. Instead, we need to give people access to tools that can save their lives. We need to do better as a society to make sure everybody has the support they need, so they don’t go down a fearful spiral of not being able to pay rent or buy food. Or of not having access to the therapy and health insurance they need.
Irresponsible capitalism and greed are so convincing that it has us blaming other external elements instead of looking at the cracks of our social fabric and our global systems. In a culture obsessed with materialism, it is no surprise that America’s level of happiness is connected to the economy. Once again, COVID is not the cause. It is the exposer.
I hope we look back at 2020 with a clearer vision that we must do better as a society. We must come together as a collective, with less ego and individualism and more compassion, empathy, and consideration for others. Because as COVID revealed our own selfish destructive nature, it has also shown us that we are not prepared for a tragedy of a much larger scale that will inevitably occur in the future. And we need to be. Our survival will depend on it.
For anybody struggling with suicidal thoughts, please visit the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
For anybody struggling with domestic violence, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
And for anybody needing low-cost therapy, consider Open Collective.
More thoughts on the pandemic from Apollo in these two articles: