Crisis Fatigue and Covid Restrictions

Catherine Hallissey, Psychologist, speaking to Al Jazeera English Newshour on crisis fatigue


Interviewer: Well, let's explore this a bit further with psychologist, Catherine Hallissey. She joins us now from Cork in Ireland. It's great to have you with us on the Newshour. It's been around a year now for the people have had their first taste of lockdown if you like, and people stuck to it quite rigidly at the start. Given that we're now a year on, I mean, can you blame people for wanting to get out and see their friends and live a little?

Catherine: You know, I think there are so many factors that are combining to contribute to many people experiencing great frustration. So, in the very early days, this was so new and there were so many terrifying scenes coming out of other countries that people, many people were able to easily buy into the restrictions. And it's particularly because we all thought that these restrictions were for a short period.

However, now we are one year on and people's motivation is flagging, people's belief is flagging. And I think one of the biggest issues is that there is no end in sight. There is no “if I just hold on for one more week, one more month, one more season, and then life can return to normal”. So because there's no end in sight, that is greatly contributing to people's fatigue and people's desire to re-engage with normal life to have all of their normal support structures back.

Interviewer: And that's very understandable, but it seems like some people are flipping too far in the opposite direction. We've just been showing our viewers pictures of hundreds of people cramped into an underground, illegal dance party, which, you know, it'd be dangerous at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic. How do you explain this rebound in the opposite direction to be, to quite dangerous conditions?

Catherine: Well, if you look at Spring Break last year, there were similar scenes then, and it's important to look at the age profile of people who are engaging in these activities. So for young people, for young adults and adolescents, they are not impacted by COVID in the same way. So the risk for them is lower. They're also at a time in their lives where they are highly motivated by being together, gathering together, engaging in novel activities. So you've got the combination of lower risk plus higher novelty seeking, fueling a lot of this behavior on top of the fatigue, the crisis fatigue that many of us are experiencing. So on the outside, it seems crazy, but for the people in there, it appears very logical to them. They have evaluated the risk and determined that the reward outweighs that risk for them.

Interviewer: Do you think it's unreasonable for governments to expect people to lock themselves up at home for these extended periods of time?

Catherine: I think that's an extremely difficult question to answer. I think that there are huge unintended consequences for this. There's a very significant mental health impact. We've got huge increases in anxiety and eating disorders and just ordinary loneliness. So we have to weigh everything up. And I think that the governments are using the best available science to make these decisions. However, nobody has all of the answers. They are making, I suppose, their best guess as to trying to weigh up the whole of the public health. And I don't think it's neither reasonable nor only reasonable. It is just their best guess as to how to keep people safe.

I think it's much more helpful to focus on how we can engage in self care, how we can continue to have social contact while maintaining physical distance and really making sure that the public health message around how to take care of yourself, how to really take care of your mental and physical health in this time so that people can endure, so that people can sustain this effort for as long as is needed to get this under control.

Interviewer: Okay. A very difficult situation indeed, but we're grateful to you, Catherine Hallissey for bringing us your analysis and your expertise. Thank you.

Catherine: Thank you.

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