So… has the pandemic set us back or propelled us forward?

Posted by: Salonee Gadgil

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Last week, just days after the restrictions in England were lifted, we hosted our first panel event. The discussion brought together great minds: Chartered Psychologist Dr Jennifer Opoku-Lageyre who spoke about her experiences treating patients with trauma and anxiety during the pandemic, Andy Ratcliffe, Executive Director of Programmes at Impact on Urban Health, who shed light on what it was like supporting communities in South London during the pandemic and Maccs Pescatore, CEO, Montessori Centre International who shared her views on how lockdowns have impacted Britain’s early years education. The conversation was chaired by Sarah O’Grady, Social Affairs Correspondent at the Daily Express and our Managing Director Laura Oliphant.

It was rich discussion, one that was supposed to last 45 mins, but lingered on for much longer and continued over a few glasses of wine. Our insightful speakers and engaged audience had much to talk about. The discussion swung between being quite pessimistic about the damage done by the pandemic, and optimistic about it being the catalyst we needed to bring about social change. We asked those in attendance what they’d remember most about things that were discussed. What’s the one idea or insight they’d take with them? Here’s what they said they’d be most likely thinking about on the train ride home.

The fact that there is a difference in 12 years of life expectancy within Lambeth borough.  

 We often talk about the great divide between the haves and have-nots in London. But Andy really hammered the message home with this very shocking statistic. It reinforces the need for tailored messaging around things like the vaccine. Can we really be reaching these two very disparate groups of people, one in Dulwich, another on Queen’s Road Peckham using the same public service messages asking them to go take the vaccine? Are we surprised they don’t all behave the same way?

We haven’t seen the economic second wave yet.

 A lot of Andy’s work at Impact on Urban Health is around how life hits health, that is, how housing, jobs and income affect ones physical health. So far, we’ve had the job retention scheme, we’ve had benefits, and suspended evictions. People working in the sector worry that when all these support systems are taken away, there will be a new wave of illnesses from people who can’t eat or live as well, or look after their children because of economic pressures. People have been talking about ‘long covid’, but what Andy’s been worried about is the ‘long pandemic’.

The desire to make decisions begins very young and is fundamental to our development.

Maccs reminded us of just how important early years education is, in developing decision-making skills. When a child goes into a Montessori nursery, they learn to make their own choices about what they want to play with, draw, and so on. This ability to make choices, autonomously, is vital in building a sense of self and resilience. Dr Jen pointed out that over the course of the pandemic, rules have been made for us. This loss of autonomy has been the fundamental cause for why people have experienced poor mental health. Humans strive for autonomy and personal freedom. If adults are suffering from the lack of the freedom to choose, what impact has living under strict guidelines had on small children? Should we really be more worried about the loss of their maths ability during the pandemic, when the real issue may be an ingrained lack of autonomy?

The best advert that our health as a society depends on each other, is the pandemic.

This is something that everyone in the room agreed on. I’m sure you, the reader, will have your own experience of having to rely on your neighbour, partner, or workplace over the course of the pandemic, in a way that you didn’t before. If you got Covid at any point you were perhaps dependant on those delivering your groceries, if you were very ill you depended on medical staff, and now as we’re rolling out the vaccine, we’re relying on everyone in society getting it so we can stay healthy.

We’re not going to recover as quickly as we would hope to, because of our ability to forget.

When asked whether we will learn from the lessons of the pandemic, Dr Jen reminded us about how easy it is to forget all we have learnt. As humans, we go through crisis or trauma, and we quickly forget whatever we’ve experienced. It takes 21 days, psychologists say, to form a habit. This meant that during the pandemic we were quick to learn the rules put in place. But now as things open up, we’re at risk of losing some of the things we have learnt – like the importance of community – if we aren’t careful.

We polled our attendees to find out whether they thought the pandemic had set us back or propelled us forward. Over 70% took a pessimistic view. But we all agreed to end on something of a positive note – a collective reminder not to forget. If we are to hold on to one thing, we decided it should be our empathy and the sense of community we develop.

 

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