Mental atrophy at the hands of the lockdown
Mental atrophy at the hands of the lockdown

"The neurological effect of an extended lockdown may be manifold. The mouse in a mousetrap syndrome will grip people kept locked in......."

Translated from French

Grapevine has it that the ongoing lockdown may be extended beyond May 3 to stem the escalation of COVID-19 cases.

While it may be lauded as a prudent decision in view of the rampaging virus, we must also take into account the psycho-emotional issues as outcomes of a prolonged lockdown. The symptoms are already obvious for all to see and feel.

A forced confinement, however good it may be for the individual and the society at large, could be psychologically damaging and detrimental to the people. It leads to mental atrophy. Lockdown is not a unique phenomenon. The Great Britain, aptly described by the intellectual poet Alexander Pope, as a country of plagues and poets, witnessed minimum eight instances of lockdown due to plague, beginning from the 14th century to the early 19th century.

Human psychology as a discipline didn't come into being at that time, to chronicle the mental trauma and turmoil of the people confined to four walls. But poets, writers and playwrights described the imprisonment of man and mind during the lockdowns in those centuries. Christopher Marlowe, the coeval of the Bard of Avon, rued during a lockdown in London: "Incarcerated, my quill ceases to flow."

Scottish poet Robert Burns equated confinement to, "A pit of hell, where nothing is well." Utterly frustrated, he went on to write, "Let this malady kill me......I hate to be killed by confinement." Neurologists and sociologists are of the opinion that an individual starts getting frustrated and mentally exhausted after precisely sixteen days of a lockdown.

Prolonged lockdown takes a toll on mental health. South African doctors, who attended to Dr Nelson Mandela who was exiled to Robben Island, where he spent 27 years of incarceration by the racist South African government, found that only with the vision of a far greater tomorrow, the great Mandela could survive.

Any other person with no such uplifting dream, would have died within 27 days! Frankly speaking, none of us has that big and noble a dream to motivate and enable us to live through an indefinite lockdown. A lockdown like this, often starts sowing the seeds of self-doubt. You start doubting your own skills, capabilities and creativity.

Inertia sets in and that leads to mental atrophy. Neuroscientists have found that when a human brain doesn't work in its usual manner for 21 days consecutively, certain neurons get undermined or even destroyed forever. Neurological activities in human brains remain functional so long as we feed and activate them through our conventional chores. That get restricted during a lockdown.

Coupled with neural breakdown, economic constraints, apprehensions of a job loss, rising psycho-somatic issues can shatter an individual. Familial disharmony also increases because spouses cannot tolerate each other when both hover over the other’s head like a Damocles' sword! And this is a fact, not just a 'frivolous' subject for TikTok videos or innumerable memes.

In extreme cases, it may result in a nervous breakdown or high BP. French daily Le Point recently stated in its editorial that people feel suicidal during a long lockdown. The reason is that human spirit craves freedom. The whole world, especially a third world country like India, cannot afford longer lockdowns.

That will adversely affect not only the socio-economic scene, but will also damage a person's mental equilibrium beyond repair and recovery. After May 3, relaxations in lockdown could be in phases, but just extending it further will be of no use. People have already had enough of it and are getting restless to come out of this dungeon of sado-masochistic imprisonment caused by a microbe. The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.

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