ST. GEORGE — While mental health care experts say that COVID-19 has brought out the best in people who have risen to the challenge, the virus has also brought out the worst in people.
Shortly after it was first reported in early April that meatpacking plants and poultry facilities across the country were closing because of coronavirus, national news broadcasts showed people making a run on grocery stores.
The visuals on television showed people queuing at the front door waiting for the store to open much like shoppers on Black Friday. As the door opened, there was a rush. People were trampled, curse words exchanged and in one instant a fistfight erupted.
While not as extreme as this in St. George, there have been instances of selfishness.
“People seem to be descending into I don’t care,” said St. George resident Samuel Gates.
At the same time, Gates said people are coming together and for the first time he can remember. Neighbors at his apartment complex are learning each other’s names.
But there are also cases of more aggression.
“At my (local grocery store), a lady was very aggressive and cutting people off to get to when she was there for,” Gates said. “I thought she might just be territorial to get to the groceries to care for her family but there was no reason to block others so she could hoard for herself.”
Even though grocery stores have signs now limiting the number of purchases of certain items, Gates laughed at this adding what is stopping people from going back in and buying more at another register.
“It makes no sense,” he said. “I don’t blame the store, but the people that seem to say ‘screw you’ to other people.”
According to Patrick Gonzales, CEO of Wyoming-based Carbon County Counseling Center, actions like this are born from fear. It is natural, he said, to become gripped in the psychological response of fight-or-flight during times of crisis.
“Interestingly, about the good and bad in people, I am finding this has created an environment for some who have found themselves in difficult situations have responded differently than what you would think,” Gonzales said.
Although people struggling with mental health, substance issues and isolation have a “new normal,” many are doing the best they can with mental health treatment provided in many creative ways including online teleconference one-on-one and group meetings, Gonzales added.
Mental health experts can reach out to their patients, but it is people now living in fear who have never been challenged mentally like we are now and communities need to pay attention, Gonzales said.
The isolation, he said, is starting to take a toll on everyone, he said.
“When you are used to social interaction and human nature is what it is, with 24/7 media and the internet driving a message of doom and gloom … it plays into people’s insecurities.”
People, he added, are being driven to the periphery of mental stability because of isolation, exclusive online social interaction, and maybe “unintentional” media-driven messages that people are fixated upon who cannot change the channel to something else.
While Gonzales said many have risen to the occasion to care for one another and develop local programs to help struggling businesses, some cannot help but fall into selflessness.
“This has created a level of tension and anger,” Gonzales said.
The trigger, he said, is a mob mentality spreading, natural selection and the survival of the fittest as well as some who spread misinformation that feeds the fear in others. Fear, he added, is the primary driving force behind a departure from “average” behavior.
It is the fear that is being constantly pushed upon people which is modifying behavior, Gonzales said.
“By and large, most people are generally good,” Gonzales said. ” But because of this pandemic and nobody ever having to go through this, it has triggered the animal, survival mentality: Taking care of me and mine first.”
When you get to this point, he added, you see mentality change that when you get backed into a corner you fight for survival.
“Generally, I don’t think we are at that stage yet,” Gonzales said. “Although some pump their chest and say they can survive in the most extreme conditions they are often the first people to crack because they are emotionally unstable from the start.”
What it boils down to if you have feelings of frustrations, fear, anxiety pressure, and stress the biggest bridge to the isolation cap is to reach out to people you know that will help you calm down.
“It’s not healthy to feed fear with more fear. Seek out a claiming force,” Gonzales said.”It doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you sit on it is natural to assume the worst-case scenario and we need to realize that we should be there for one another … but we tend to look at the negative before we look at the positive and this adds to the anxiety and going into self-preservation mode. Not in everyone, but in some.”
Despite some claims we are nearing the end of the tunnel of COVID-19, Gonzales said we are in the middle of the tunnel and people’s “questionable” behavior is based on the fear of the unknown.
“We are in a dog-eat-dog world and it is a contributing factor,” Gonzales said. “It isn’t that much different to the downfall of the Roman Empire. Look how a virus has almost toppled not only us but the rest of the world. We haven’t addressed this pandemic in a fashion that makes sense.”
In times of stress, Gonzales added, it is important to remain calm, believe we are all in this together and we are our brother’s keeper.
“This is affecting people regardless of their position in life, their status, income level, age and anything else,” he said. “Instead of thinking you are going to be the only one that comes out of this alive no matter what, we need to think that we will all come out of this alive.”
Although dire, there are positives, Gonzales said.
“You have to look at this as we are all part of the human race and it is our responsibility to think how can we help each other,” he added.
“You do see that happening across the country. It doesn’t help to point fingers or be aggressive. During times of stress, we need to work harder to be kinder, to be nicer and remember that your neighbor is probably troubled and going through these things much like you are.” Gonzales said.
Tim Martin, member of the St. George Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints communications council agrees there is a high level of stress as the pandemic continues, yet there are hope and affirmation of resilience that everyone should hold close to their heart and guide their actions.
“I think that people are reaching out,” Martin said. “My family has left cookies and Easter Lillys on doorsteps. I think there are a lot of people who want to do more to serve others, realizing for many of us … we are in need.”
In the middle of many people’s times of stress caused by COVID-19, Martin acknowledges some people’s poor actions, but added, there have been many more moments of kindness especially in St. George.
“At times like this, it brings our true character.” Marin said, “My sense there are more good people than people who are not. This is what permeates St. George.”
A 15-year resident, Martin is encouraged how the city has the “we are all in this together,” we are “our bother’s keeper,” and “this too shall pass” attitude.
“We are on this ride together,” he said. “Everyone has to decide whether it is going to painful for others or are we going to be helpful. Things will never be the same again … but the virus has raised awareness that we are all in this together regardless of church denominations.”
It is not just about churches, Martin added, it is about individuals, families and others to think about how they can help others.
“There seems to be a desire in many to help others,” Martin said. “We are going to come out of this knowing we all have shared a common experience that will bond everyone together. We won’t be the same but in many ways, it might be better.”
Families are learning how to grow closer together and businesses are learning how to connect with their customers in different ways.
“There is hope,” Martin said.”This too shall pass. There will be crisis … but we will always come out on the other side. Will, there be pain, yes there will be pain but we’ll look back and know that we have the strength to make it through other things as well.”
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