Suspended Animation

A New Behavioral Program: Suspended Animation

All around the world, we have a new commitment to suspense. Education is suspended. So, too are daycare and preschools. Office work? In large measure, that simply doesn’t exist right now. In fact, it seems like the pattern of our lives has become suspended animation.

The Pause Button

For a small minority, this might be a welcome pause. Trite bromides about making lemonade when life gives you lemons will work just fine for a while. We see families out walking together. Streets are uncrowded. Traffic noise is gone. Lovely.

But only for a short while.

A New Reality of Life?

Suspense is a short-term phenomenon. But it’s becoming clear that changes to slow the ravaging effects of the coronavirus may well last for months or a year. Perhaps even a bit longer. If that’s true, we have to create a new reality for ourselves. Part of that, as David Brooks suggests, requires acceptance:

I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom that cancer patients share: We just can’t know. Don’t expect life to be predictable or fair. Don’t try to tame the situation with some feel-good lie or confident prediction. Embrace the uncertainty of this whole life-or-death deal.

There’s a weird clarity that comes with that embrace. There is a humility that comes with realizing you’re not the glorious plans you made for your life. When the plans are upset, there’s a quieter and better you beneath them.

With acceptance, the suspense evaporates. We can simply know that we’re dealing with a new, uncertain pattern of life.

Toward a More Sustainable Pattern

However, acceptance of an uncertain future does not exempt us from dealing with the problems of the present. Parents trying to work at home cannot run a preschool or a home school for months at a time. Public education cannot easily replace real, live schools with online instruction. That will leave students with special needs behind. It will magnify disparities in education that are already huge.

Do we see any national leadership in planning for the future of education from the U.S. Department of Education? Nope. Just a few notes about maybe they’ll think about relaxing standards for testing.

What about a workable strategy for daycare? Right now, it’s a hit or miss proposition. Some states have ordered most childcare centers closed. Others have prioritized them as an essential service. Leadership would help on this issue, but we’re not seeing that at a national level. We can do better.

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals cannot care for growing numbers of seriously ill people if their own precious children have no care. And the issues of sustainable patterns for life go well beyond childcare and education. We could go on for quite a while on this subject.

Making This Experiment Work

This is, as we’ve noted, a huge, uncontrolled, natural experiment. It will have a profound effect on our health. It’s more than an infectious disease challenge. It presents a huge challenge for behavioral health.

We have brilliant experts all over the world in behavioral health. Their expertise is essential for assuring we can adapt to the lifestyle challenges this pandemic presents. Leadership on this dimension would help. We cannot afford for this to be a failed experiment.

Suspended animation is unsustainable.

Click here and here for more on mental and behavioral health issues in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Suspended Animation, video installation by Ed Atkins, photograph © Matteo Brittanti / flickr

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March 20, 2020

2 Responses to “A New Behavioral Program: Suspended Animation”

  1. March 20, 2020 at 9:32 am, Allen Browne said:


    You present lots to think about this morning.

    Thank you. Stay well.


  2. March 20, 2020 at 12:24 pm, John DiTraglia said:

    Kinda like getting old……………………………………………………………….