Catastrophising

The cognitive distortion we see in relation to covid-19 has led to levels of anxiety out of all proportion to the risk.

I have just begun reading The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. The book explains that Mr Lukianoff has suffered with periods of depression, and undertook Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in a bid to deal with the problem. One of the most important subjects discussed as part of the therapy is that of catastrophising. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines catastrophising in the following way;

To imagine the worst possible outcome of an action or event: to think about a situation or event as being a catastrophe or having a potentially catastrophic outcome

What CBT teaches is that the worst outcome is not the only or most likely outcome, and that one should try to think more rationally about any given issue and to consider the alternatives. To avoid catastrophising can help us deal with depression and anxiety.

In their book, Haidt and Lukianoff explain that they have noted how some students react to speeches on campuses exhibited exactly the same distortions that CBT teaches us to avoid, and question whether these cognitive distortions make students more anxious and depressed. I suspect we are seeing much the same cognitive distortions in response to covid-19 in the UK.

Covid-19 was an unknown quantity when it reached our shores. Now however, data is coming from around the world and the manner in which it spreads and who it affects is better understood. For example, the BBC reported on 20th May, that 3 children under 15 have died with covid-19. That was 0.01% of total deaths at the time. People aged aged 15-44 accounted for 1% of deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan says that children are “less capable” of spreading the virus, and are at “very low risk” of getting ill from the disease. “What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools.”

The risk to the children is incredibly small, the risk to their teachers is “very low”. Yet still some councils will not allow their schools to open next Monday, while some parents say they will refuse to send their children to school until a vaccine is found. I am a father and I understand the need to protects ones family, but catastrophising has replaced rational thinking. The cognitive distortion we see in relation to covid-19 has led to levels of anxiety out of all proportion to the risk. The upshot, and the far more likely outcome for some children, will be lasting damage to their education and future prospects.

According to UNESCO;

School closures carry high social and economic costs for people across communities. Their impact however is particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalized boys and girls and their families. The resulting disruptions exacerbate already existing disparities within the education system but also in other aspects of their lives.

Meanwhile in this week's Spectator it is reported that Norway’s Government has calculated the harm inflicted by school closures, showing that every week out of the classroom stunts life chances and permanently lowers salaries.

It is the already disadvantaged children who will suffer most if the schools remain closed.

29th May 2020

#journal #coronavirus #schools #lockdown