The world has again spun itself in a frenzy over the latest round of an illness bound for inevitable endemic status in Omicron. The contemporary dialogue involves a familiar language of pandemic phrases: Booster Shots, Johnson & Johnson, Faucci, Delta, Flatten the curve. The list goes on and on.
And yet as social media and the phrenetic movement of demi-information cavorts around like a sociological mosh-pit, so much has been lost in the stampede– for in a herd, the stampede’s trampling tends to be far more dangerous than the threat it is fleeing. This is no exception.
As the crowd rushes to escape the burning building and blocks the doors with its frenzy, an invisible contagion of equally insidious power has wreaked its demolition. Mental illness now infects 2 of every 5 of children and teens, with 25.2% or 1 in 4 suffering from depression and 20.5% suffering from anxiety, double their pre-pandemic rates, numbers that boggle the mind. Mental illness has thus become a generational plague of unseen proportion.
Ironically, contemporary consciousness had just begun to accept mental illness as a true problem preceding the onset of the madness in 2019. Increasingly, accommodations were being granted to students suffering from mental illness in academic and test settings. A more specific understanding of these conditions was being disseminated among educational professionals, both in casual diagnosis and educational approaches to mitigation. Most important of all, though, a de-stigmatization of these conditions was beginning to take hold of popular conscience: a development that had critical impact on both the adult educators involved and perhaps even more importantly, by peers.
Much of this understanding has lost its momentum in education, swept aside by efforts to provide masks, monitor immunizations, provide facilities that would cater to social distancing, etc. But even practical stampeding aside, the naturally increased isolation produced by shutting down the world has reduced that sense of acceptance and security to a whimper in the dark. The nearly 30 million youth under the age of 18 suffering from mental illness have been largely ignored to save the lives of a youth population that has lost a total of 790 in two years of rampaging disease, according to the CDC. I’m no Jeremy Bentham fanatic, but only the grossest rejectionists of utilitarianism would approve of these troubling statistics.
What are the effects on a society’s future when it doubles it’s rates of mental illness? What becomes of a culture infected by its own reflexive anxiety and depression in a civilization built on the power of its brains? In an coming age where the corporeal self means less and less, what impact will trading the health of tens of millions for the health of thousands have on our own stability?
These questions have no answers. But we will know them soon.