The Great Plague of Milan in the 17th century lasted about 3 years and was followed by various outbreaks all over Italy for over 20 years despite the efforts to keep the infected people away from the rest of the population.
The first period of restrictions in Milan was quite effective but a release of those measures to allow people enjoy the Carnival caused a new major outbreak of the disease. The estimated toll of lives taken in that period may vary between 15% and 60% in Italian cities and the decline of economic and cultural life after the Great Plague was dramatic for more than a century.
During the current pandemic of COVID-19 social restrictions have been effective to limit the toll of cases and deaths. Enforcing social restrictions however leads to dramatic consequences on the emotional and mental health of children, vulnerable and young people in particular.
HOW CHILDREN HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY SOCIAL RESTRICTIONS
Studies carried out in English schools and other environments by various institutions -such as UNICEF, The Lancet, Barnardo’s, The Children Society, more from Unicef– revealed the psychological and mental impact of lockdown and social isolation on school-age children. Furthermore education specialists, teachers and parents confirmed their concerns as symptoms like anxiety, loneliness, depression and uncertainty have dramatically worsened.
In children the school closure -though necessary- caused a clear disruption of their daily routine and a traumatic breakdown of their social interactions with teachers and schoolmates. This means not only an academic deprivation but also -and perhaps almost- a growth of fears, broken sleeping patterns, social inaction, limited access to physical movement indoors or outdoors.
Children with vulnerabilities or poor background have been the most affected and saw their gap widening in all directions.
Although the remote learning might have been seen as a way to soften the worst impact of social isolation, it has also led to a massive overload of screen time and in some extreme cases to children being manipulated by abusers on social media.
Remote learning is not the answer to a healthy child development that needs to be based on human interactions rather than on virtual connections. Everyone with some common sense can see how human interactions are so necessary and urgent in education, within the family and in the larger society.
Children need more than everyone else to interact with human beings, both at school and at home.
Live teaching is vital for a child but it sometimes appears to be underestimated in our society.
HOW YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE BEEN AFFECTED
The impact of Covid on young people has been highly disruptive in their most important environments: employment and studies.
In workplaces youngsters have seen a sharp rise of unemployment, while university students have experienced a completely different quality of the online learning compared to in-person teaching.
Young people have been the hidden victims of this pandemic and no sort of support have been offered to them to compensate that deprivation.
The large majority of them have been responsible to protect their older relatives and followed the rules giving up most of their wish for entertainment, travel and social interactions. For them the most dramatic effect of COVID has resulted in a certain lack of control of their life just at the time when they need to improve self-confidence, see positive perspectives and setup a good start in their professional future.
HOW PARENTS HAVE BEEN AFFECTED
Parents couldn’t avoid the impact of COVID either: their own wellbeing and mental health have been squeezed as no previous crisis could do. In particular those with low incomes or poor background have seen a sharp rise of fears, anxiety, emotional stress. Some parents were reported feeling guilty for not having provided a better social position to their children.
IS THERE ANY REMEDY TO SAVE OUR MENTAL HEALTH
A serious threat like COVID doesn’t deliver anything positive on itself, but such a challenge might offer opportunities to direct our own development to good ends.
Especially in the first period of this pandemic we saw people engaging themselves in in-house activities (or even online), starting to explore a healthy diet, getting interested with climate changes, people who set up new businesses and became more “social” in real life, for instance by becoming more aware of their… neighbours!
Parents have been closer to their children and spent more time with them revitalising a certain warmth of “family life” which young children surely love. Children showed their imaginative, creative nature when given opportunities, space and time.
Those spontaneous, positive reactions to the first lockdown can now inspire how to deal with prolonged social restrictions, for instance by setting up a daily routine, a time structure that help young children feel well protected and enjoy the closeness of their parents at home.
However, it can’t be ignored that, while staying at home might have in some cases strengthened the social cohesion within a family and in a local community, it has also caused a rise in break-ups and divorces, an increase of domestic abuses and even violence.
It seems a strange contradiction: Covid didn’t deliver anything positive on its own but it happens that the most difficult, deadly circumstances can lead human beings to find within themselves a sort of “water of life” and become capable of unimaginable resources, of resilience, of creativity.
THE DOUBLE FACE OF COVID
The virus has somehow revealed a reality that is implicit in every existential challenge, but often comes to light only when we are edging the cliff of desperation: there is a “double face” in certain tragic, devastating life events. On one hand those negative events are trying to knock down our health (and wealth); on the other side they set alight our strength, our determination to live and to enjoy living, to take control of our days and re-direct the malignancy to a good end.
Similarly to a disease that could lead an individual to death or to a healing process, COVID as pandemic can be seen as a disease for the whole society that might give the final shot to the values of our society or be twisted into an opportunity that heals the unbalances of the social life, that might feed more hate and divisive conflicts or turn into a more understanding and mutually supportive cooperation, that gives the illusion to cheat our neighbours and demolish our competitors or inspire new ways to join one other as individuals with good will.
Our effort to transform the impact of the killing virus is due to the young generations who are the hidden, invisible victims of the current pandemic and should also become a tribute to the memory of those who were not lucky enough to survive its deadly attack.
Creativity may help and be the quell of inspiration that could turn our physical and mental issues into a new fair, safe and balanced society, even if creativity alone wouldn’t be sufficient for those deep changes.
A time is coming that requires ethical values being alive above all, praised and promoted in a community without economical, racial or ideological barriers, without seeing our colleague or neighbour as a competitor or an opponent.
We all should be aware that ideologies have died with the Twentieth Century but the ideological thinking based on prejudices and stereotypes can still do significant damages: we need to shape a future based on human beings, a human-centred future.
The magical key for this human-centred future is just a simple one: social inclusion. Or in other words, a new level of fraternity.
The virus called on us all to work together: we are on the same boat, in the same village and need to take care of one other, children and youngsters first!
Should we continue to live in bubbles based on heritage, ideology or census, we might go not too far and will have to wait for the next (even more) devastating pandemic to feed our hope again….
Never stop to dream your future, Never give up but always feed trust, hope and love