Whether you have experienced illness, relocated, lost a loved one or a job, got a kitten or got divorced, eaten more or exercised more, spent longer showering each morning or reached every day for the same clothes, it is an inescapable truth that the pandemic alters us all. But how? And when will we have answers to these questions – because surely there will be a time when we can scan our personal balance sheets and see in the credit column something more than grey hairs, a thicker waist and a kitten? (Actually, the kitten is pretty rewarding.) What might be the psychological impact of living through a pandemic? Will it change us for ever?
“People talk about the return to normality, and I don’t think that is going to happen,” says Frank Snowden, a historian of pandemics at Yale, and the author of Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present. Snowden has spent 40 years studying pandemics. Then last spring, just as his phone was going crazy with people wanting to know if history could shed light on Covid-19, his life’s work landed in his lap. He caught the coronavirus.
Snowden believes that Covid-19 was not a random event. All pandemics “afflict societies through the specific vulnerabilities people have created by their relationships with the environment, other species, and each other,” he says. Each pandemic has its own properties, and this one – a bit like the bubonic plague – affects mental health. Snowden sees a second pandemic coming “in the train of the Covid-19 first pandemic … [a] psychological pandemic”.