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Covid 19 coronavirus: Conor English - The importance of time to mental health

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NZ Herald

By: Conor English


The lockdown has seen us all spend time with our families or a close group of people in our own bubble, for a few weeks now. For us personally this has meant time with 10 in our bubble. One of our six kids, our eldest daughter, came back in January from London with her bloke and a month ago they had a baby daughter. So we went from 9 to 10 in our house during the lockdown. For us, we have all taken the attitude that we need to enjoy this special time together, because it won't last. Our kids will gallop off in their own direction soon enough. But having time together has been enjoyable and great for our mental health.

So it's been positive for many families who have spent nice time together, have got on and made the most of this unusual forced situation. But there is a flip side to this lockdown coin.

Every single day that businesses and their staff are forced into the situation of not having time with customers, we develop more mental health issues across society. Time matters to mental health. It puts more pressure on those already under pressure.

And there are going to be lots more people under pressure. Economists predict double-digit unemployment and massive numbers of business failures. Simon Bridges suggests we have 1000 joining the dole que every day. Over time that's a lot. I hope they are all quite wrong, but we do know this is going to be big and the impact felt over the next several years.

Those job or business losses will be a challenging reality for families. In the first instance it means loss of wealth and resources to support the family. Less cash buys less things. Rightly or wrongly it can also mean loss of self-worth, loss of identity, loss of purpose, loss of hope in the future and, in some cases, loss of temper. When these things are gone there is simply more trouble.

And then there are more mental health challenges for everyone in the family, not just the person who makes up the statistic of lost job or business. Everyone is inevitably affected negatively to some degree.

I saw this in the mid 1980s when the agricultural economic reforms of the then Labour government were implemented at blitzkrieg pace. Overall, it was the right thing to do. The interests of the many were prioritised over the interests of the few. New Zealand has been better off for it in the long run, but there was a cost. These are the hard choices and decisions politicians make. That is what we elect them to do.

However the way the reforms of the 1980s were implemented meant more damage was done than was otherwise necessary. So people lost hope, some got sick for years, some died before their time. There was no free lunch on mental health. We need to learn from that experience.

The difference between now and then is that hundreds of thousands more people are going to be impacted in a real way.

Yes, obviously this virus is unprecedented and complex. We need rules around it to help keep us safe, but time matters to our mental health. Our politicians need to keep adapting policy on a daily basis as they get new data on all the variables in the mix, be that health, economic issues, but especially mental health. Its not obvious that this is happening.

Whatever decisions are made by our politicians, we need very, very good reasons that need to be set out very clearly and can be understood by everybody. The "why" it's happening needs to be obvious to everyone, so they can continue to buy into it.

Time matters for mental health. Less time with customers is more pressure on business, staff, families and that's bad for mental health. Let's keep adapting.

Conor English is a Director at Silvereye Communications and a number of other entities.


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