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O Globo: On Depression During Quarantine: “Communicate, even with an imaginary audience”

Excerpts from an interview by Luciana Medeiros

Can isolation lead to collective depression?

A crisis can be forgotten as soon as it is overcome, but the trauma will remain. Those born in Nazi-occupied countries show higher risks of mental illness in adulthood. We are already in a collective depression. We are complex creatures, programmed to compete in the harsh process of natural selection, and, as a group, to unite in the face of life’s challenges. Without the gregarious impulse, we would not have cities, governments, airplanes, love. But there are people buying up stocks of hand sanitizer to make a profit. And medical teams courageously risking their lives. We all have both impulses. Civilization, however, is rooted in kindness and generosity. If we don’t support each other, most of us will die. It’s that simple.

In “normal times”, is isolation a cause or a consequence of depression?

…A depressed person may say that he cannot stand the presence of people, but leaving him alone is a huge mistake. Yes, isolation can lead to new cases of depression and exacerbate existing ones.

And how to minimize this, especially among the elderly?

…[S]upport people as much as you can without touching them. Do not neglect medication if you use it. Bet on Skype or Facetime therapy sessions. Keep yourself busy. Write down what you feel. Communicate, even with an imaginary audience. It is much better than being alone.

The internet has been crucial. How do you see this phenomenon in the light of the pandemic?

The internet can propagate misinformation, and produce people staring with glazed eyes at a cell phone all day. But while in isolation, it is obviously better to be online than not. Exchange messages, see friends, find out if someone is sick, talk to doctors. Not being to enjoy an artistic group experience is a terrible loss. But I can watch performances online. Ironically, this time of isolation is the most important time for us to rely on the collective experience.

Finally, what do you recommend about books, online museums, music right now?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a wonderful online program, and the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, has an incredible collection of impressionists that can be seen on the computer. I have been reading A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, and also Jane Austen for a delicious escapism, immersing herself in a perfectly safe world. Broadway World magazine has been promoting daily Living Room Concerts with actors and actresses offering incredibly charming online mini-performances. And I recently re-watched Bill Gates’ 2015 TED Talk about a worldwide epidemic.

(To read the complete interview, in Portuguese, please visit O Globo.)