Opinion | Contrary to the assertions of the Director of Public Health Bristol, this pandemic is not 'a gift'


By Lowri Lewis, Opinion Columnist

Sometimes, it can be useful to look on the bright side of things. For a group of people whose mental health was worsening even before Covid came into our lives, in this second lockdown, we’re in need of some positivity more than ever.

But I was not the only one to feel a sense of outrage when Bristol’s public health director, Christina Gray, told us to consider this pandemic ‘a gift’ and to be glad of the fact that we’re in this ‘natural experiment’.

We’re less likely to be physically vulnerable to the virus, that’s true. But the impact that this virus is having on our lives is not something to be disregarded. Rather than making us feel any better about the situation, for many of us her words simply made it feel like we weren’t supposed to be feeling the way we did. That we should be taking advantage of the pandemic, not crying about it.

"The 'Gift' that stole Christmas" / Alice Proctor

But we have every right to be sad about this. Our loved ones are at risk. It’s not ‘a gift’ to be unable to see family, or to have deadlines coming up with no chance of seeing friends to take your mind off it.

Gray also suggested that students make ‘something out of awfulness’, but did we not learn in the first lockdown that pressuring yourself to be productive just makes you feel worse? Considering the fact that most of our work has to be done at a desk which is one step away from the bed we sleep in, it’s hard enough just to get motivated these days.

It must be said that she was clearly trying to make us feel better about the situation we’re in, not worse. And people have tried looking on the positive side of Covid before with some success, and seeing the few ways that it can have a positive impact on people’s lives does help to an extent.

But Gray simply went too far - she made it seem as if she had little sympathy for the negative effect this pandemic has had on us all, academically and personally.

After all, she must be aware of the consequences it’s had for us so far - like the dire situation of first years, many of whom have had to self-isolate in the weeks before this lockdown even started, in accommodation with people they barely know.

And the situation isn’t much better for other years. Even in a flat where you’re friends with the people you live with, periods of self-isolation and lockdown can increase tensions beyond a tolerable level. Arguments get much more heated than they would under normal circumstances, and things which would normally go under the radar are causing stress-induced angry outbursts.

Being hundreds of miles away from friends and family makes it an incredibly stressful time for many

And that’s the situation for people who are actually in Bristol - it’s hard to imagine the level of stress that those on their year abroad must be under at the minute. Particularly, in the knowledge that a lockdown in their foreign country of choice could suddenly render them unemployed.

Being hundreds of miles away from friends and family makes it an incredibly stressful time for many anyway, so the added stresses that the pandemic causes are obviously not going to be thought of as ‘a gift’ to these students.

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They aren’t going to feel privileged to be living ‘one of the most huge events’ in world history. None of us are.

It feels like anything but a privilege - telling students that it is just demonstrates a complete lack of compassion for those of us who’ve had mental health conditions worsen, family members get ill, or any other number of the negative consequences of Covid happen to us.

This pandemic is not ‘a gift’. Don’t try to convince us otherwise.

Featured Image: Epigram / Jack Crockford

Do you think it was insensitive to call the pandemic a gift for students?