Coronavirus: Is it really an emergency?

Presently, only about 550* people have died from this virus nationwide. That’s out of a population of how many millions?

Compare that to suicide, where the CDC says about 900 people die from it each week.

In the face of something new that we don’t understand, and for which there is no cure or vaccine, we should take it seriously. Regular hand washing, covering your mouth and face when you cough or sneeze, staying home if you are sick. It is natural to be afraid.

Mental illness both nationwide and locally, is still a far bigger problem. The fear of something new and potentially dangerous only further compounds mental illness. Government is right to act, like expanding benefits for those who cannot work. But it is the closure of our schools business and our communities that I cannot get my head around.

We are so focused on the identified problem that we risk forgetting the whole picture. Schools provide so much to our children. Not least for their social and emotional needs. The mere existence of the school being there, the chance to come in have a sense of structure, to see friends, the sense we can be good at something. They provide a chance to get out of chaotic and traumatic home environments. That counts for so much. Just being in the building reduces the risk suicide rate in and of itself — for staff and students alike. The same is true when showing up for work each day, especially if it’s your own business. It provides such a sense of meaning.

Good mental health treatment and suicide prevention is about building connections with others, having meaning in one’s life, making sure we are free to choose. This mandatory “social distancing” is coming at grave cost. I am deeply concerned that lives will be lost because of it. What’s worse: No one in government has really stopped to think about that. In the “Live Free or Die” state, should I not be free to choose if I want come to work or school, even in the face of a pandemic?

With thanks,

PAUL SOLTYSIAK, LICSW

42 Sawyer Road

Keene

*(Note: as of Tuesday afternoon.)