A rise in suicides highlights the wider impact of the pandemic on society
When it comes to human life, the very idea of a cost-benefit analysis strikes us obscene. Isn’t every life of infinite worth?
Yes — but that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility for making difficult decisions. For instance, we can’t point to the lives saved through lockdown measures without also taking into account the downsides — because those can be measured in lives too.
There was a grim reminder of that last week in a tweet from the London Ambulance Service:
Sadly, the number of suicide and attempted suicide incidents we attend are increasing.
— London Ambulance Service (@Ldn_Ambulance) October 28, 2020
To be clear, there’s no direct claim here that these numbers are explained by the stresses of lockdown or the wider impacts of the Covid crisis. But it’s hardly unreasonable to come to that conclusion, and with lockdown coming into effect on Thursday, it’s worth taking note. While the constraints we’ve placed on everyday life may be necessary, they carry costs that go to the heart of who are.
Of course, there are few simplicities when it comes to the mental health of an entire population. For instance, the psychologist Jean Twenge highlights the remarkable resilience of (American) teenagers during the Covid crisis. Indeed, in respect to depression and loneliness the situation appears to have improved this year — and that’s against a longer-term trend of deteriorating teenage mental health. For teenagers, at least, lockdown may have some compensations — like spending more time with family.
There is a reminder here that while we need to get back to normal, we should also think about what ‘normal’ ought to be. ‘Building back better’ isn’t just about infrastructure.