Coronavirus UK: Psychological harm of second lockdown is ‘too much’


 When Boris Johnson announced the imposition of a second lockdown on Saturday, he made much of the apocalyptic figures relating to spiralling rates of infection and death that had prompted him to take such drastic action.

Sadly, the Prime Minister gave no indication he understood the terrible ordeal another lockdown represents for vast swathes of the population.

 It’s easy to see why this might be the case.

Johnson divides his time between Downing Street — with access to a garden — and a country home, Chequers, with ten bedrooms and acres of parkland.

While travelling between the two, he does not sit in a crowded train carriage but in a chauffeur-driven car.DR KERI NIXONDR KERI NIXON

DR KERI NIXON: Sadly, the Prime Minister gave no indication he understood the terrible ordeal another lockdown represents for vast swathes of the population

I do not say this in the spirit of a class warrior. I appreciate that a man burdened with such weighty responsibilities has to have the facilities and support network to help him carry them out effectively.

Nightmare

But as a consultant forensic psychologist, I feel that too few people in power understand the scale of the lockdown nightmare for people confined for long periods, either alone or with others.

Many of the people who criticise anyone who dares to speak out about the iniquities of lockdown are to be found in comfortable surroundings, working from home on salaries that haven’t been cut, while boosting their savings with the money they might have spent on their commute or lunch.

I too have been able to work throughout lockdown. I have a warm home and can feed my family. 

Consultant forensic psychologist Dr Keri Nixon

Consultant forensic psychologist Dr Keri Nixon

But I feel I must speak out for those I see who don’t have those privileges.

We all need to stop thinking of ‘me’ and think of ‘us’.

For every family in a comfortable home with access to outside space, there are too many others confined to pokey tower-block flats with a balcony at best to take the air.

There are young people, just beginning to make their way in the world, living in cramped shared accommodation. 

There are millions whose poor social conditions may be compounded by money worries; those on zero-hours contracts, the self-employed, and the many in hospitality and retail who have lost their jobs and find themselves unable to pay their rent or keep up their mortgage payments.

It is in such contexts that much of the collateral damage of lockdown can be found: mental health problems, child abuse, and domestic abuse. 

The incidence of all three has soared under lockdown.

I am not putting it too strongly when I say lockdown is breeding desperation.

I have observed an extremely worrying increase in suicidal individuals referred to me and colleagues. This is backed up by more formal data.

One individual contacted us on social media to say they felt suicidal. We tried to reassure them. That person was later found dead by the police.

Another patient of mine, a single woman in her 40s, who is a key worker, has spent the past few days in tears. 

The first lockdown had triggered suicidal thoughts. She simply doesn’t know how she will get through the next.

London Ambulance Service reports suicide and attempted suicide incidents its crews have attended have spiked in the Covid era, with an average of 37 callouts per day, compared to 22 in 2019 — an almost 70 per cent increase.

This tragic toll cannot be put down to the so-called ‘snowflake generation’ lacking fortitude to cope with setbacks. 

DR KERI NIXON: I am not putting it too strongly when I say lockdown is breeding desperation

DR KERI NIXON: I am not putting it too strongly when I say lockdown is breeding desperation

It is attributable to the despair created by a sense of hopelessness, pure and simple.

Yes Covid-19 kills — but so does lockdown. And it will be far worse this time, which is why I and more than 40 mental health experts have written to the Government warning ministers of what is to come.

But will they listen? There are people I have spoken to in the past few days who have told me they literally can’t go through lockdown again — they simple cannot face the loneliness and isolation. 

They range from the elderly hidden away in care homes, prevented from seeing their families, to young people who fear for their futures.

I feel overwhelming concern for the owners of small businesses that were weakened so badly by the first lockdown that they do not have the resources to weather another.

I say all the above not because I underestimate the public health threat Covid poses. Of course I know it can cause serious illness and death.

However, I also believe in a proportionate response. I cannot advocate pushing hundreds of thousands deeper into poverty, sparking a sharp rise in unemployment, creating a mental health crisis and consigning undiagnosed cancer victims to a lingering death.

The truth is adults in poverty are not afforded the luxury of reaching the average Covid age death of 82. 

They will on average die ten years earlier than their affluent peers.

Yet they are also the ones suffering most because of lockdowns, and indeed, it will be their children, and grandchildren, who suffer for generations to come because of this catastrophic economic, and mental health tsunami.

Suffer

I cannot understand why the PM and his ministers are not taking seriously the many alternative suggestions being proposed by eminent scientists and public health experts worldwide — many of whom have signed the anti-lockdown manifesto known as the Great Barrington Declaration.

They simply do not accept the judgments of Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and those who make up the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

That tens of thousands of people will suffer — and many will die — when there is an alternative to this blunt instrument makes me angry. 

DR KERI NIXON: I feel overwhelming concern for the owners of small businesses that were weakened so badly by the first lockdown that they do not have the resources to weather another

DR KERI NIXON: I feel overwhelming concern for the owners of small businesses that were weakened so badly by the first lockdown that they do not have the resources to weather another

We are heading into a financial and psychological catastrophe, yet the Government seems incapable of action.

Instead, ministers continue to preside over a test and trace system beset by endless problems — despite it being the key to controlling the virus and avoiding total lockdowns, according to the World Health Organisation — while simultaneously instilling fear at every turn.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have failed to seek medical advice for symptoms that may be related to cancer because they are too scared to visit their GP or a hospital or because it has been too difficult to get an appointment.

Staggering

Macmillan Cancer Support last week estimated up to 50,000 cases of cancer have gone undiagnosed due to lockdown.

 Yet here we are again with the NHS on the verge of going into Covid mode.

That staggering number of undiagnosed cancers will increase, as appointments will be cancelled just as people were starting to seek help again.

To use a fashionable phrase, I feel like I have been watching the Government ‘gaslight’ a nation — employing psychological manipulation to get us to doubt our own sanity.

You may think that’s extreme but entire communities are being placed in a perpetual state of anxiety and coercively controlled.

Basic human activities, such as spending time with friends and family members, hugging each other, and travelling freely and without fear, are deemed dangerous and irresponsible.

Yet what is truly unreasonable is branding human behaviour — which has evolved over aeons to ensure we survive and indeed thrive psychologically — as somehow destructive.

This is our last chance for a measured debate, a more honest discussion — and the reversal of a policy that will eventually kill far more people than it ever sought to protect.

Keri Nixon is a consultant forensic psychologist whose specialities include domestic abuse.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or go to www.samaritans.org

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