Lesson: Doing nothing is harder for many of us than doing something really hard

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There are plenty of examples in history to show us that nations of people can rise to the challenge of doing something hard. Yet, being asked to do nothing (but shelter in place) is quite a different thing. Many people will struggle with a loss of identity. The concept of “who I am” is formed in a network of interdependent roles and relationships. This is true across every culture and time. Losing all of this so suddenly will produce helpless rage for many of those impacted after the initial shock wears off.

Unless we are aware of this, and addressing it in a strategic way, this may lead to tragic outcomes to self and others. Specifically, if a potentially extended period of social distancing results in loss of a productive role in society and extended isolation, we can predict escalation of the very two risk factors that Joiner’s Interpersonal Model of suicide risk tell us we should be concerned about: thwarted belongingness and feelings of burdensomeness. The research community may insist that the data is “not yet in” but among those of us who are in trenches, who get weekly calls about suicides, or our nation's last responders who own funeral homes, there is wisdom to be gained in hearing their voice. They are our society's emotional first and last responders. They are the early alert system in our society. We need to listen right now to those who are in the trenches of mental warfare.

— Shauna Springer, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist


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