How Loneliness from Coronavirus Isolation Takes Its Own Toll
By Robin Wright
At a White House press briefing on Friday, Peter Alexander, a correspondent for NBC News, asked President Trump about the psychological toll of the covid-19 crisis: “Nearly two hundred dead, fourteen thousand who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared,” Alexander said. “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” Trump shot back, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.” For weeks, the President seemed oblivious to the scope of the coronavirus threat; now he seems heartless about the spiralling anxiety among Americans and ignorant about the physiology of fear, after a week unprecedented in American history, during which much of the country has closed down, the economy has ground to a halt, and millions have been told to stay home. Since last week, state officials have ordered one in three Americans—living in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, and Massachusetts—to remain indoors. For many of the rest of us, normal life has been suspended as the tally of cases soars. It all feels eerily apocalyptic—and, for most, scary.
The Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, demonstrated more compassion than Trump when he appealed, on the same day, for residents of America’s second-largest city to stay home. “I know there’s been a lot of crying, and it’s O.K. to cry,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of fear, and it’s O.K. to be afraid.” On Saturday, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, acknowledged the “truly significant” psychological and social stresses of our uncertain times. “People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics,” he said. “This state wants to start to address that.” He appealed to psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists willing to volunteer to contact the state to help set up a network to provide mental-health assistance for people who are anxious or isolated.
As governors across the nation began ordering lockdowns, I talked with neuroscientists and psychologists about the impact on the human body—not of this new pathogen but of the various stresses that accompany it. Read on...