Robbing People of Hope

Everybody needs hope in their lives. When we rob people of hope, we deny them a future. We see this played out in our homes, our schools, our churches, our sporting clubs, our hospitals, our aged care centres, and our workplaces. Its impact is felt by the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, people who are not able to advocate for themselves.

Hope is often dependent on the nature of our relationships. Where there is empathy and understanding, care and support, people feel affirmed, enabling them to flourish despite the challenges they may be facing. Where there is insensitivity and intolerance, abuse and neglect, people pull back, erect emotional barriers and channel their energies into self-preservation.

Sometimes we lose sight of hope. We allow our circumstances, the challenges we are facing and the changes we are experiencing, to blur our vision. We shift our focus, searching for something to hold on to. But…

Hope is not optimism. It is not looking for a positive angle to eliminate fear and anxiety.  When we hear misplaced optimism, particularly in a time of crisis, it can sound aloof, out of touch, and insincere.

Hope is not the belief that everything will be fine. There are many situations in which a negative outcome is more probable than not. In this context, hope is nothing more than a wish for a favourable outcome.

Hope is choosing to see beyond our current circumstances to something better. It is an invitation to act. As Barack Obama says,

“Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.” 

Barack Obama

Corporate and educational consultant Dr Judith Rich emphasises the value in being able to see a way forward. For her, it is hope which provides the illumination. She says,

“Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.”

Dr Judith Rich

George Orwell, the author of the dystopian novel 1984, warned that ‘absolute power in the hands of any government can lead to the deprivation of basic freedoms and liberties for the people.’

When the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, extended the State of Emergency it gave him the legal framework to exercise unfettered power over Victorians. The severest restrictions could be imposed if they were seen to offer protection from the virus. His sometimes unpalatable and uncompromising actions gained worldwide attention.

The New York Post filed this report on Monday 3rd August under the heading, ‘Australian state imposes strict lockdown measures after declaring state of disaster.’ It read,

“Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria entered its first full day under stricter lockdown measures on Monday, after declaring a state of disaster and imposing a nightly curfew in the state capital Melbourne, to fight a resurgent COVID-19.”

Melbourne residents could never have imagined that the lockdown would continue for 111 days, becoming one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world.  

During this period of lockdown and amidst the difficulties brought about by the coronavirus pandemic Melburnians have struggled to keep hope alive.

The Victorian state government has not helped the situation. HOPE has been missing from much of their messaging during the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, many of the strategies employed to contain the spread of the virus have been detrimental to our hope. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the government has robbed us of hope and here is how.

1. By maintaining a narrative of fear.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many to live in fear and anxiety, especially of catching the disease itself. Even our children are showing signs of distress, being unable to mix in the usual way. All of us have been subjected to a barrage of warnings about the endless dangers we face. Commentating on the stay-at-home quarantine orders in August, Premier Daniel Andrews said,

“If we do not follow the rules, if we do not comply, people will die. That is how serious this is. It is a matter of life and death and it is the greatest challenge that we have ever faced.”

When governments engage in fear mongering and repression we need to pause and assess the toll it is taking on our mental health. Such extreme measures may bring a temporary halt to the spread of the contagion, but they will certainly lead to more business failures, mass unemployment, public distress, and fractured lives.          

2. By undermining our connections

Mental health professionals have been warning of the stressful impact of lockdowns and other COVID restrictions on people’s psychological wellbeing. Humans are highly social beings with a strong need for social contact. Although new technologies (e.g. video chat software, social media groups) help reduce the stress of the lockdown, they are not “the real thing.”

Writing for the Daily Mail UK, Professor Angus Dalgleish, reported that the despair of lockdown drove two of his colleagues to take their own lives. Commenting on one of the suicides he said,

“The death resulted from the dreadful anxiety and loneliness felt by the young person in question as a result of being cooped up all the time.”

Following the easing of restrictions in Victoria, AMA President Julian Rait had this to say:

“Lockdowns are not a permanent solution. The health implications of a never-ending lockdown are serious… Melburnians are exhausted with the unrelenting nature of Victoria’s lockdown strategy. Socially and economically there have been very substantial costs. Many people have been significantly impacted by isolation, unemployment, and mental distress.”

Julian Rait, AMA President

3. By prohibiting activities that energise us

Five million Melburnians were impacted by the stage four coronavirus lockdown rules that were designed to limit movement and restrict interaction. Residents could only venture out for a handful of essential reasons and they were not permitted to travel further than a 5km radius from their home. The disruption to daily life was massive.

Some of the restrictions included

  • Recreation activities such as fishing, boating, golf, tennis, camping and surfing etc.
  • All outdoor recreation facilities such as pools, outdoor gyms, and playgrounds
  • Restaurants and cafes restricted to take-away and delivery only.
  • All entertainment venues such as arcades, galleries, and theatres
  • Weddings not permitted
  • Funerals limited to 10 people in attendance
  • All religious and worship ceremonies required to be broadcast-based

The harshness of the restrictions meant people of all ages and situations were unable to share in life giving experiences. People in hospitals and prisons were denied the in-person support of chaplains. Children and young people were not able to attend school, depriving them of face-to-face learning and being able to see their friends. Small business owners were forced to close their doors, restricting their trading options, and threatening their long- term survival. Lovers of the arts were unable to visit museums, attend live shows or enjoy art exhibitions. People of faith were not permitted to gather for worship and participate in the sacraments.

4. By eroding our sense of purpose

During the stage four restrictions residents of Melbourne had many common sources of meaning stripped away. The activities which typically provided structure to their lives were no longer possible. The commute to work, participation in cultural and sporting activities, dining out at a restaurant, family gatherings, the weekend road trip to country Victoria were some of the experiences denied them.

Meaning is associated with good mental health, a lower risk of depression, thriving personal relationships and a greater engagement in healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as eating well and exercising.

It is the uncontrollable elements of a lockdown that contribute to our stress levels and challenge our ability to find meaning and purpose in the unfamiliar.

The restrictive measures caused many Melburnians to experience ‘lockdown fatigue.’ It describes ‘a feeling of being demotivated, sluggish or exhausted despite – or perhaps because of – potentially having more downtime due to our disrupted routine.’

The combination or work, financial, health and housing insecurity has left a lot of people feeling anxious and fearful, wondering what the future might hold.

Perhaps the present uncertainty will give rise to new forms of meaning and new reasons for hope. As Barack Obama says,

“Keep hope alive. A better day will come.”

Barack Obama

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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