After a decade in the college classroom I recently spent two years teaching high school. A variety of things surprised me about the high school students I met, but probably the most alarming aspect was discovering how many of these young people were taking antidepressants. Americans’ mental health was not stellar prior to the arrival of COVID-19, and a perfect storm of economic upheaval and physical isolation resulting from questionable government edicts has unsurprisingly worsened matters.
According to recent data released by the CDC, one in four young adults aged 18-24 contemplated suicide within the thirty days prior to being surveyed. The CDC surveyed over five thousand people, and over ten percent of respondents indicated entertaining suicidal thoughts recently.
Were I to list the things that give my life meaning, atop that list would be my faith in God, my family, and my work teaching. Consider that prior to the pandemic many Americans had no faith in God or religious beliefs of which to speak, and whatever family relations they had were perhaps strained. Take a job away from someone who otherwise has no anchor, lock them in an apartment for months, and what do you think will happen?
The weeks of quarantine were not my favorite, but I was at home with my family. There were days I, like many other mothers, longed for a few hours of the quiet solitude that is mentally crippling so many. I was physically distanced from my students, but I was still expected to provide them some direction via the Internet when the college courses I teach were moved online. I felt my students still needed me. I desperately missed assembling with my church family physically, but I saw my preacher’s smiling face and heard his voice via online sermons. My book club, a group of ladies I cherish who’ve been a fixed part of my life for nearly a decade, did not suspend operations and continued to meet via Zoom for two months. Things were different, but the fixed pillars of my life were still in place. For many Americans, those pillars fell away completely in a matter of days.
As I so often do when I consider human nature and human needs I again turn to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy. When I teach my Fundamentals of Communication course we begin the semester with Maslow. Why do we communicate? I ask students. The simplest answer is to meet some need. Sometimes it’s a perfunctory need such as when we order a pizza, but sometimes it is a much deeper need that prompts us to communicate.
If you peruse the levels of the famous triangle that is so often used to visually represent Maslow’s suggested hierarchy of human needs you begin to understand the total devastation our response to the pandemic has wrought in the lives of many. Many people have been worrying and continue to worry about meeting their basic needs such as food and shelter. The virus has many people, even wealthy people who have no monetary concerns related to the loss of a job, stressed out about their physical health.
Even those who haven’t suffered the loss of a job and who are not particularly concerned about the virus and its potential impact on their health do not escape Maslow’s scrutiny. Maslow knew what many have discovered in the last few months: the need to belong, to interact with others and feel accepted, is a basic human need.
Last night I attended parent orientation at my children’s school. I saw a friend I’ve missed over the summer and asked her, as I have others over the last few months, if it was okay for us to hug (we did hug). We are living in bizarre times. We have for too long now ignored human nature, and this will catch up with us as it always does. As Time reported in April of this year, being deprived of touch can impact people on a psychological and even physical level. God designed us to honor and worship and Him, but He also designed us for each other. And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
We are killing ourselves in an effort to ward off a virus that most of us would survive. I wrote about loneliness back in June. The virus is still with us, but so too are our basic human needs. I believe history will judge many of our current leaders quite harshly for their response to this virus. There are two things no government official can fully bend to their will regardless of how many edicts they issue from on high: a virus and human nature. We have ignored basic facts about both since March, and we will continue to pay a heavy price both economically and in the form of human suffering for some time.