On Wednesday, December 16, the SNF DIALOGUES, a series of events held through journalism nonprofit iMEdD (the incubator for Media Education and Development), hosted a live webcast on the pandemic’s effects on our mental health.
“Our psyche is a product of dialogue, as, from the moment that we are born, we are part of a relationship. There is no ‘I’ without an ‘other.’ From this initial condition derive the difficulties, but also the beauty, that shape the adventures of our psyche,” said Foteini Tsalikoglou, author and Professor of Psychology at Panteion University, in her opening remarks. Parsing the unprecedented circumstances that we are living through, Tsalikoglou asserted that “the typical reality that we are experiencing brings us in contact with very bright, but also very dark, parts of our psyche. We have woken up to a different world…. In the midst of the pandemic, the meaning of what it is to be human is being tested, along with what it means to exist in this world…. We must face our fears head-on.”
Tsalikoglou also discussed the tragic increase in domestic violence cases in Greece ,in recent months, and the need to interrupt a pattern of harmful behaviors, including addiction, exacerbated by the pandemic. When asked how and when she thinks we will be able to return to normalcy, she responded, “Normalcy is a fluid concept. ‘Normal’ is not a given. It is worth thinking about our previous ‘normal,’ that we are now striving for, in terms of the gaps and inequalities that it has established. It is not, in itself, an ideal state. A huge benefit of this pandemic is the collapse of the myth of the omnipotent individual that has been encouraged by our culture.” As for the post-pandemic future, she predicted, “When this pandemic is over, perhaps it will have helped us get rid of the tyranny of this miserable and false version of happiness, which banishes imperfection, vulnerability, and deficiencies—everything that makes us human.”
In an interview for SNF DIALOGUES, Sander Markx, Director of Precision Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, underscored how the threat posed by the coronavirus affects mental health. “The pandemic isolated us; we lost our daily social contacts. This leads to higher rates of stress and depression. Those who already experienced mental health issues before this reality will see a deterioration. Therefore, both the healthy and the mentally ill have been dramatically affected…. Mental health is a fragile thing, and the impact of the pandemic was even greater than what many people think.”
On positive developments people may have seen during the crisis, Markx commented, “This pandemic is a great challenge. We have all looked at life differently. We all had to pause and think about what is more important. It is important to value time spent with our loved ones. The efficiency of the collaboration between academics, governments, and the private sector for the creation of the vaccine has brought on positive effects for morale.”
Harold Koplewicz, President and Medical Director of the Child Mind Institute in New York, addressed the effects of this year on children. “It is important to understand that, before the coronavirus, one in five children faced mental disorders. The stress caused by the pandemic has an effect on the mental health of almost every child. We are worried that their morale will drop, that they are starting to lose hope that things will improve. As parents and as doctors, we need to guide them, step by step…. We were not prepared for a global pandemic. But, now, we must prepare for dealing with a wave of stress and anxiety. People and society must prioritize the mental health of children and adolescents because of the coronavirus.”
At the same time, Koplewicz noted a potential opportunity for the treatment of mental illness that the current situation presents. “The stigma attached to mental disorders for years prevented parents from seeking help. It is time, because of the pandemic, for all of us to think about our mental health, especially that of our children.”
Andreas Dracopoulos, Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), said, “Through the pandemic, most people are now realizing the need, in every home, to talk about mental health. Loneliness, uncertainty, fear; all of these emotions affect our psyche.”
Discussing the attitude of the international community toward mental health needs and experts, he noted, “It falls on leadership—not only health leaders but also political leaders—to help highlight mental health in a broader context. This moment offers an opportunity to take the steps necessary to strengthen mental health infrastructure.”
Related to SNF’s support for expanding high-dependency and intensive care unit capacity in Greek hospitals, Dracopoulos emphasized, “These needs don’t only apply today, but are about being better prepared for the future. Through SNF’s global COVID-19 relief initiative, and also through our ongoing Health Initiative, we aim to help bolster health infrastructure in Greece.”
The DIALOGUES are curated and moderated by Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou.
*The opinions expressed by DIALOGUES participants are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) or iMEdD. Speakers’ remarks are made freely, without prior guidance or intervention from the team.