When Do Losses From Shut-Down Exceed Benefits?

I do not hate my mom. Many in the media and some friends on social media seem to believe I do hate my mom, as well as other older people with compromised immune systems.

For more than a decade my mom has been taking potent drugs that suppress her immune system. I become a hypochondriac whenever a visit approaches. Is my throat scratchy? Could I be getting a cold? Something worse than a cold? I am keenly aware that my health affects not only her health, but her life expectancy.

But the thought that we need to consider the costs of shutting down economic activity is viewed with horror! The cultural message of the moment is that I value money more than people. But the human costs of our national shutdown are enormous.

Social isolation, the loss of productive work, limiting exercise opportunities, and removing control over our lives will produce significant mental and physical health problems. The research connecting these factors to well-being is well established.

We can be confident that the intensity of symptoms have increased for people who currently suffer from depression and anxiety. Further we can be confident that new cases of depression and anxiety are on the rise, as are problems with alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence. Lives and relationships are being ruined and, yes, some of these people will die.

The people who are suffering the consequences of our extended economic shutdown have faces, too—just as the people who contract COVID-19 have faces. The media may not be counting the victims of the shutdown, but they exist.

Even the gyms are closed. Yet we know that exercises boosts the immune system and reduces the risk of depression and many diseases. How many more heart attacks and strokes will occur due to the forced closure of gyms?

What of the loss of purpose for laid-off workers? Does it feel like a slap in the face to get more in unemployment than one earned for productive work? What dangers will idle minds be drawn to?

When I walk through my neighborhood I pass a funeral home. Funerals are still taking place, but few people are able to attend. At the time of their greatest loss, families are disconnected from each other and their friends.

Then there are the young people who were to celebrate their marriages before family and friends. With legal limits on the size of gatherings and orders to shelter in place, nothing approaching a normal wedding can be had.

I think of shut-ins who long for visitors in normal times and now those visits are illegal.

At what point are the losses from the shutdown greater than the losses from COVID-19 itself? Considering this question comes not from a cold heart, but a warm one. We need to remember the invisible victims and consider their needs, too, as we decide the best course of action.

Yes, it is political leaders who will make the decisions, but they need to know that we the people recognize there is a downside to an extended shutdown. That downside likewise includes very real human suffering.

, Warm Hearted Thinking

About Joseph J. Horton

Dr. Joseph J. Horton is professor of psychology at Grove City College and the Working Group Coordinator for Marriage and Family with the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is also a researcher on Positive Youth Development.