Many years from now, future historians will be scratching their heads to figure out how the mass suicide in 2020 was sanctioned. And how was it possible that so many so-called developed countries, with the legacy of Nobel Prize-winning scientists and advanced technology at their disposal, were still caught with their pants down by a virus?
And, yes, by suicide, I mean actual suicide, but also the destruction of our livelihood, driving businesses into liquidation and damaging our mental state.
This article should be read in tandem with my previous post (The Emperor is Naked) where it was emphasised from the outset that I am not against the lockdown. On the contrary. I think it is the best way to contain the virus. My concern is about the way this lockdown is been managed.
In 1978, Jim Jones, leader of an American cult in the Guyanese jungle, ordered his followers to murder a US congressman and several journalists, then commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch.
His followers, some acceptant and serene, others probably coerced, queued to receive cups of cyanide punch and syringes. The children were poisoned first, and can be heard crying and wailing on the commune’s own audio tapes, later recovered by the FBI.
In total 909 followers of Jones, including 304 children, died that day.
Decades later, survivors of the tragedy still remember being part of an organization that they devoted a good portion of their lives to. “The people were incredible,” says Jean Clancey. “People who were capable of committing themselves to something outside of their own self-interests.”
“We – all of us – were doing the right things but in the wrong place with the wrong leader,” adds Laura Johnston Kohl.
Tim Carter said, “There were so many lies that Jones told to people to create a state of siege mentality in the community, that even those that were making ‘a principled stand of revolutionary suicide’ probably were influenced a lot by the lies that he was telling them.”
Leslie Wagner-Wilson, told Fox News: “There’s a need. People want to be a part of something. They want to feel safe; they want to feel a sense of community.
“In an environment like this”, Ms Wagner-Wilson cautions, “you might think there’s something wrong, but because everyone else is embracing it and clapping and being joyous, you look at yourself and say, ‘It must be me’”.
Familiar key words, aren’t they? Incredible people, committed, do the right thing, sense of community, feel safe, clapping and being joyous, etc.
At the time, after hearing about this horrible mass suicide for the first time, I was thinking to myself, how on earth is it possible for so many people to be influenced by one man? How can a parent feed their crying, unwilling children poison and then commit suicide? It’s madness.
Now, in 2020 I wonder no more. I’m experiencing it.
Currently, an estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – is living under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. This is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever conducted.
Unfortunately, we already have a good idea of its results. In late February 2020, right before European countries mandated various forms of lockdowns, The Lancet , a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal , published a review of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine. The findings offer a glimpse of what is brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world.
In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common, the study notes.
In just a two week period, suicide was the leading cause for over 338 “non-coronavirus deaths” in India due to distress triggered by the nationwide lockdown – 151 people killed themselves due to loneliness, withdrawal symptoms and financial distress.
It is estimated that up to 150,000 Britons could die from non-coronavirus causes, caused by a spike in suicides and domestic violence, because of the UK’s lockdown. The pandemic is expected to have a huge knock-on effect on people’s mental health due to financial worries and a disruption to routine. As early as 6 April, it was published that an increasing number of mental health incidents had been reported to police.
The new-normal that we are trying to maintain is unsettling, in troubling and intense ways. Unnerving, because we really don’t know what tomorrow will be like. Apparently, for humans, living with uncertainty is harder than living with pain. According to writer and psychotherapist, Bryan Robinson, participants in an experiment who were told they would definitely receive a painful electric shock were calmer than those who were told that they had a 50% chance of receiving one. Our brains, argues Robinson, are wired to equate uncertainty with danger.
No wonder solitary confinement – being used in prisons to keep unruly prisoners in check – receive so much criticism for having detrimental psychological effects and, to some and in some cases, constituting torture.
In South Africa, the national government’s Gender-based Violence Command Centre recorded more than 120 000 calls from victims who rang the national helpline for abused women and children in the first three weeks after the lockdown started – double the usual volume of calls.
The damage that COVID-19 is causing is irrefutable, but so are the effects of the lockdown. As a global community we are united in following these restrictions despite its adverse affects – such is the power of the ‘herd mentality’. Indeed, it is the only solution we have until a vaccination is found, but it doesn’t mean that we have to resign ourselves to the worst of these conditions. Perhaps our leaders can take a leaf from a publication in The Lancet, titled “The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it”:
- Information is key; people who are quarantined need to understand the situation.
- Effective and rapid communication is essential.
- Supplies (both general and medical) need to be provided.
- The quarantine period should be short and the duration should not be changed unless in extreme circumstances.
- Most of the adverse effects come from the imposition of a restriction of liberty; voluntary quarantine is associated with less distress and fewer long-term complications.
- Public health officials should emphasise the altruistic choice of self-isolating.