Lockdown and the Power of Persuasion

Currently, we are facing another three weeks of lockdown, possibly even longer. So it feels ever more important to look at the way this situation is being presented in order to work out the best possible outcome.   

We hear evidence that social distancing is effective in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and that we may even be over the very worst of the death tolls.

And yet the unrelenting deprivation of lockdown for so many people may be extremely hard to sustain.

It feels to me like a tinder box which, if not handled very carefully, could conflate to bring about a very unwelcome outcome.

A recent headline in The Times read: “Public being treated like children in lockdown situation.” Many of us feel that, from the outset and after a shaky start, the Government’s approach has been to order and instruct. Adults used to running their own lives and making their own choices are not comfortable being put back into childhood roles.  

Decision makers have categorised people into groups that show no appreciation of the wide disparity of individual situations within such groups, as well as seemingly ignoring those who may not have a home to stay in or those whose homes are far from a safe refuge.

Generations of families are being kept apart

We have witnessed an exponential rise in domestic abuse since the lockdown, and for those already suffering from depressive conditions and addictions, being isolated in your own space can quickly lead to acute loneliness, self-harm and despair.  

Old people in care homes, deprived of family visits, can so easily lose the will to live. On the other hand, there are many people aged 70+ who are as fit – or even fitter – than their younger colleagues (look at Captain Tom, for example, the Army veteran who has lapped his garden over 100 times at the age of 99). Purely because of their age, these people have been pensioned off and made to feel like pariahs if they venture out at all.   

We even have the ridiculous situation of the NHS now having to beg people to come into hospital for their critical care treatments, such has been the fear brought about by the Stay At Home: Protect our NHS messages. 

We have heard many examples of the heavy-handedness of the police in challenging people’s reasons for being outside, but this approach has also led to the very destructive process of neighbours policing each other and social media groups being set up to monitor  the activities of others.  

This is extremely divisive at a time when, above all, we need to be pulling together in our communities and as citizens, not just of the UK, but of the world.  

I believe this could have been avoided if there had been more focus on the “how” and not just the “what” of the incessant messages with which we are being bombarded. Those messages have been delivered in a way that is so sombre and threatening that it is difficult not to feel like a naughty child who doesn’t really understand the situation – and certainly can’t be trusted!

Ministers need to explain, not threaten

Research into working with resistance has demonstrated that, to be effective, it is necessary to be able to persuade the person that change is in their best interest and is motivational in over-riding the current behaviour.  

No one ever made a sufferer from anorexia start eating healthily again by threats – not even the very real one of death – and recovery in these situations is reached  by offering alternative lifelines which break through the fear that has created the resistance in the first place.  

We are living in a climate of fear and uncertainty and are receiving threats and orders on a daily basis with very little empathy and understanding about the hardships we all are experiencing. And, meanwhile, there are no positive suggestions about how to better manage the situation the government has imposed on us. 

This is a very demanding time for us all, but it doesn’t have to be a wasted one.

There ARE ways to mitigate against even the most acute distress and the first and most important one of these has to acknowledge its existence.

I worry that ministers are those who are guiding them are not sufficiently aware of the psychological impact of this lockdown. And, because of that, I the tinder box could soon ignite.

If that happens, the consequential damage could be very long term.   

By Sue Sutcliffe

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