The world will long remember the past year! We were thrust into circumstances that will forever change us individually and globally. We know the results – over 530,000 dead in the United States alone, millions sickened, an economy in free fall struggling to recover, a severely challenged health care system, new medicines, new disease conditions, and trillions of dollars in government spending attempting to ameliorate the effects of this global pandemic. The list of negative consequences goes on. But are there some “silver linings?” Is there some good coming from this daunting and often frightening global challenge?
The first is the most obvious – increased respect and appreciation for health care providers. Already the most respected profession in the United States, Registered Nurses gained even greater esteem, as they work to save the ill and comfort the dying. Every day physicians and other health care professionals do battle with this disease.
The status of teachers, a largely female profession, is also rising. Prior to the pandemic, some people, idiotically, claimed, “Teachers are just over-paid baby sitters!” No more! Parents tasked with teaching their children at home, now believe, as one woman remarked after a particularly trying day, “Teachers should be paid a million dollars a year!”
Retired elementary school educator, Patricia Henderson, stated, “I think there is a greater appreciation of what teachers actually do and how demanding teaching is. Parents who are trying to work from home and teach their children at the same time now realize how their child acts (in school.) Those parents who think the teacher should be able to handle all discipline problems, actually see what the problems are.”
Perhaps there is a growing appreciation for women in the work place. They are not only employees, but also wives, mothers, and caregivers for the elderly and disabled. Some have supportive partners. However, many are alone, struggling to care for their families who depend not only on their wages, but also their care.
Dr. Miriam Zwitter, a former Dean of Nursing with a specialty in mental and public health asserts, “Many women are totally overwhelmed…It is assumed that they, not their partners, will leave their work to care for the family. Not only does this decrease income, but many of them have lost valuable time in their careers.”
Assistant director of a non-profit agency focused on rent and utility assistance, Lori Bell concurs. “Many women in service related and factory jobs have had to leave work to care for their children. This falls particularly heavily on women of color. They simply do not make enough money to pay their household expenses as well as childcare, if they can find it. Even those women who are still employed may face reduced hours. Not only does this translate into a reduction in an already meager income, but disqualifies them from collecting unemployment.”
Ms. Bell and Dr. Zwitter also cited the effects of isolation and loneliness on the mental health of those who live alone, especially seniors.
Despite the pain caused by the pandemic, might there be positive, long-term changes resulting from our struggle to manage the consequences?
According to Ms. Bell, “It (the pandemic) has forced people to get creative. To do things they have never done before.” A number of women went into business for themselves, meeting the need for prepared delivery meals, as well as, personal care products.
Ms. Bell continued, “Even more exciting, many women returned to school for additional education and training.” Given the time to think about what is possible for them, they accessed opportunities available through on-line learning. Instead of viewing themselves as helpless victims, many took the opportunity to better their lives.
Although, social media has many negative effects, it does help to ease consequences of loneliness and isolation. Most of us are at least a little bit more tech savvy as a result of forced time at home.
Most importantly, might we as a nation finally acknowledge the importance of mental health services? In the United States, we have for too long ignored and neglected mental health needs. As more people admit to experiencing anxiety and depression, as well as, a struggle with addiction and compulsive behaviors, the stigma of mental illness may fade.
Might we provide more and better services to the mentally ill and their families, comparable to the services provided to the physically ill?
Mental health services are costly, complex, and often long-term. However, the human and societal costs of not providing care – increased suicides, family disruption, and over-dose deaths, to name a few, are immeasurably high. Witness the deaths of a number of people, especially black men, who are incarcerated or killed by police when their actual crime is being mentally ill and untreated. Might we now, as a result of this pandemic, end the stigma and silence around mental health problems and begin to allocate the resources necessary to deal with them?
Might we also develop a greater respect for educators and give them the resources they need to do their work?
As Ms. Henderson points out, “We look up to sports figures and celebrities. What have they done during this time?” Might we begin to have a greater appreciation and respect for the service workers we depend on to keep our communities functioning? Might there be a silver lining here in the willingness to pay these workers a living wage?
Might girls and young women, including girls of color, see career possibilities in science, health care, and government? Women in leadership roles are increasingly visible during this challenging time. CDC Director, Rochelle Wallensky and Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms are just two of the women in such leadership positions.
Might we also acknowledge the remaining inequities in business and industry for women, as well as men, of color? Might we take more steps to remedy these inequities?
Might we effectively and honestly confront the shortage of affordable housing in our country?
Might we value our families, friends, and neighbors even more than in the seemingly long ago pre-pandemic time?
Might we increase our appreciation for the freedom to travel and participate in recreation?
Might we keep the new skills and hobbies developed during enforced time at home?
COVID – 19 will leave its’s mark on our time, but we are not helpless victims of this terrible disease. While many consequences of the pandemic are negative and painful, others can be beneficial. The results remain to be seen.