WHAT GOES ON IN THE MIND OF THE VERY YOUNG?
In this long interview held for Antonio Sorvillo, journalist of Firenze Today, a worrying and specific picture emerges, which highlights the need to prepare resources capable of stemming as far as possible the phenomenon of psychic distress in the time of Covid-19
The data relating to the increase in mental distress in Tuscany during the COVID-19 pandemic were disclosed. These are increasingly evident incidences, which now affect a huge number of individuals. What is most worrying on the sidelines of the pandemic condition is certainly the increase in mental distress, particularly among the young. The director of the Order of Psychologists of Tuscany, Dr. Gulino, recently reported on these findings to the Health Commission of the Tuscany Region.
Doctor Pinzani, the data brought to the attention of the Health Commission of the Tuscany Region are undoubtedly clamorous and cause concern …
Unfortunately, I confirm that in clinical practice there is an increase in the incidence of mental distress and an accentuation of the severity of it. The phenomenon, in addition to having increased in importance, affects subjects of a lower average age than in the past, who have an increase in severity. In addition to this, it is observed that in the last period there are simultaneously relational and symptomatic difficulties of different nature.
Who are those most easily affected by the difficult condition?
The most susceptible are those who present greater fragility in general, deriving from previous aspects or superimposed on the current situation. For these reasons, in the development stages, the distress is often observable thanks to a specialised analysis, but the damage is often manifested later in the year.
Does this happen in any group age or are there more susceptible types?
The very young have an exceptional tolerance but are inevitably sensitive, for a factor that concerns the extraordinary ability to learn from environmental circumstances, which is why they directly absorb the emotions they detect in the environment. Precisely this property is the key to their ease of taking on environmental emotional traits but also explains their susceptibility related to the family environment.
Can we identify the causes of this condition of social deterioration?
The reason is to be tracked in the increase of uncertainty that in this period derives largely from health causes, which affect individual and collective aspects. In those who have difficulties it is possible that the general psychological structure and the mental defense condition usually present may be weakened. To understand these aspects we must refer to the reservoir of fear that has accumulated over the last year, regardless of the social class, occupation and condition of the individual.
Is for this reason that anyone has more psychic suffering even without realizing it?
It is inevitable that even solidly structured personalities can exhibit a resentment that builds up in the intimate parts of consciousness. The mind forgets nothing of what it assumes and arouses, it accumulates every circumstance and if there is no condition of rebalancing it is possible that it will expose a malaise even after some time, exposing the accumulation it has suffered. We could say that in the mind the past does not exist, meaning that every psychic entity lives everything in the present, even what seems forgotten. This happens in every topic.
For this functioning, the very own personalities returning from past hardships, added to the present ones, stem as they can, often disguising even themselves a suffering that affects their ability to react to this historical period.
What characterizes families during this period?
Necessarily, both the family and the social whole are inevitably affected in a more or less direct and evident way by a difficulty that is currently unavoidable. We are at a time when no solution can be seen other if not expressed by collective activity. This circumstance, on the one hand, puts everyone on an equal footing and on the other establishes a climate that is difficult to tolerate mentally. Individuals and the society have the same fate and the same, modest capacity to resolve the drama that derives from an enemy that tends to be unacceptable, because it is immaterial.
Is there a difference in the reactions implemented in the different age groups?
The incidence of mental distress in the various manifestations has increased significantly in all age groups; on this condition everyone reacts with the resources at their disposal and among these, the increase in aggression is in the foreground.
In particular, an exemplary fact concerns the increase in intolerance in interpersonal relationships; the same that has caused an increase in domestic violence. This means that in collective and family situations in which relationship difficulties were already present, discrepancies have worsened, to the point of manifesting very serious acts of aggression and domestic violence. Whoever is involved and in particular individuals in the course of development, will not be able to not suffer the consequences.
Which are the types of mental distress mostly present in this period?
The psychological reactivity following the perception of a danger activates a condition aimed at facing the hostile circumstance. If a solution to the problem is not reached, the mental apparatus stabilizes and produces an exasperated attention process, aimed at facing the cause. If the resolution is late in taking place, the individual’s condition becomes chronic in a spasmodic form of attempting to control every aspect of the environment and a spasmodic attention system is established that can lead to exasperation. Dysfunctional anxiety lives in this conformation, which moves away from a greater probability of successfully facing the reality, but nevertheless remains present in a basically predominant manner. In practice, it is as if the individual became a guardian of what he perceives without any possibility of understanding the possible solutions.
Likewise, the depression that often coexists with anxiety spectrum disorder is often due to the repetition of perceived frustration in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the problem. For this reason, depression and anxiety are the connotative conditions of reality in recent months.
Is what happens today in adolescents suffering from anxiety and depression in relation to having had a typical formation of digital natives?
Being born in the digital world inevitably leads to consider the evanescent and fleeting reality of the digital itself as more tangible. It is like saying that the reality combined with the web is “truer” for those who were born or trained in recent decades, while the “real” reality of everyday life remains more complex to face. All of this to the point of danger, in which the imagined reality takes on greater importance than the one that has to be lived. This is one of the dangers to be averted from now on.
Can we imagine different repercussions of this condition in the short and long term?
The violence and aggression perceived today will certainly have repercussions in the coming time. In particular, young people are often inapparent victims of assisting in inappropriate family and social conditions, due to a coexistence to which adults are sometimes forced, up to a climate of uncertainty and tension. Young or very young people and those who are weak from a psychophysical point of view can be both direct victims of violence and suffer its consequences indirectly: in particular, in the phases of individual construction, the mind inevitably suffers the environment. It is an educational aspect that forges individuals, leaving a debilitating imprint in them that cannot fail to have repercussions, both in the present and in the future.
How does it happen that fears provoke aspects of unease?
We must imagine the mind as a large container, in it are faced the conditions of reality in relation to individual resources. In this historical phase it is evident that there is a practical difficulty that provokes the psychic one, which is triggered within man and which affects every aspect of existence. In this way it happens that the fear becomes more and more solid until it conforms dysfunctional systems that firstly affect the so-called adaptation disorders up to psychopathological pictures that are able to accentuate any already existing traits of misalignment or to provoke new of them, accelerated by the enormous catalyst of anxiety.
Which are the aspects that testify the social difficulty due to psychological distress following the health emergency?
Certainly there are aspects that constitute a signal due to the current social condition; among these the consumption of psychiatric drugs, which has increased significantly, in particular for anxiolytics and antidepressants; likewise the waiting lists for specialist visits in the public sector have had an increase of entity never registered. All the elements testify to the particular condition we are witnessing following the health emergency which has repercussions not only in classical symptoms but is also expressed in every other element that testifies to health, primarily the psychic sphere.
What means do we have to stem this condition?
The means are therapeutic ones in the different modalities of psychotherapy and pharmacology, but even before the preventive ones, in the sense that men must return to observe each other by manifesting a cure, in the sense of attention, even before specialized intervention. Individuals united by an emotional bond must be the object of observation that goes beyond practical care. To children, to life partners, to those who have a role in our existence must be asked how they feel, what and “where” their fears are, has to be observed their reaction, their intimate condition imagined. Each individual perceives when his interlocutor tends to understand how he feels inside himself. This, above all else, makes the difference; not only in the course of a pandemic, but at any moment of existence.
Which are the symptoms that first begin and that can report a condition destined to worsen with a minimum of anticipation?
Each being expresses with greater relief the aspect in which it suffers the greatest difficulty and weakness, for this reason there are no behaviors that certainly denounce a psychic deterioration. However, there are conditions that are often an important indicator. Certainly the aspects related to the sleep-wake rhythm represent elements of strong significance, in which a situation of difficulty is expressed. In today’s society, for a long time everything can happen in any moment of the twenty-four hours, from purchases to relationships, now largely virtual. This contributes to the dispersion of parts of the day, accentuating the possibility of sleep disturbances. Precisely this characteristic represents a fundamental aspect of psychic balance, in which states of consciousness different from wakefulness take place and for this very reason easily susceptible to variations in the presence of difficulties. Sleep is still a partly mysterious element
So does sleep have this importance? What are the effects of the anxious reaction on the sleep-wake rhythm?
The difficulty of sleeping is a primary indicator of a complicated reaction to reality; it implies a cognitive impoverishment, irritability, memory loss up to hallucinations and weakening of the immune system; all conditions extensively investigated experimentally, which link the physical to the psychic state. In particular, in the pandemic condition, a threat to physical health occurs which has certain repercussions in the area of mental expression, as the statement of the World Health Organization sets out, which defines health as a “condition of both physical and mental well-being”. In this case it is evident that the threat to physical health involves the psychological aspect.
Was the condition of serious health difficulty in the psychological field foreseen by you professionals in the sector?
Both individual professionals and the forms of aggregation of the same have for a long time exposed the practically inevitable risk in the field of mental distress. I myself have addressed the topic in several locations in different circumstances. Now it has become essential to act.
Is public health able to repair the damage that is developing?
Many first and second grade schools, in relation to the possibilities they have, have prepared interventions through the activation of psychologists. Both the Order of Psychologists of Tuscany and other regions, as well as welfare works of various kinds have set up units of professionals in order to respond to the first request for help from users. As far as Public Health is concerned, the difficulties relating to the lack of personnel already complained on other occasions emerge, but the desire to collaborate is evident, to the point that groups of colleagues have made themselves available even for free to meet at least the request. As soon as possible it will be necessary to set up suitable psychotherapy courses, absolutely essential. Both the Order of Psychologists and Psychotherapists and individual professionals are doing everything possible to cope with the already evident impact. It is a major test. Unfortunately, it is foreseeable that the situation will worsen in the near future.
Interview published at Firenze Today
Intervista pubblicata su Firenze Today