The Other Pandemic

Veronica Fernandez

Havana Street.  Photo: Caridad
Havana Street. Photo: Caridad

Like every Sunday, I got up early to do the household chores, particularly the laundry and cleaning; the rest of the week there’s little time for these tasks since I’m absorbed with my professional duties.

Today is one of those routine Sundays, but with a big difference.  I woke up thinking about the infinite number of situations that affect our lives in terms of tranquility, peace and space.

The local media constantly hammers us about the measures we must take to avoid contracting the AH1N1 virus, an infamous pandemic.  However, when I stop to analyze the many things that affect us in our society, I note that there are other pandemics that can and do upset the stability and balance of any human being; these are situations that directly threaten our mental health.

This is talked about, but never with the intensity that it requires.  A few days ago I was speaking about such a lack of stability and balance with Eneyda and Laureana, who are doctors and friends of the family.  We discussed how these qualities are so crucial today, keeping in mind how humanity is now subjected to high levels of stress, as well as the fact that many people do not recognize this as a problem.

Loud music, blaring almost 24 hours a day; shouting and obscenities, the annoyances of public transportation and poor food service, the systematic absence of garbage collection -to mention only a few problems- lead to situations of permanently soaring stress levels.  This in turn results in cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and other equally grave illnesses.

In my specific case, it has led to psoriasis.  I was told this by the dermatologist who was treating me and who will have to treat me for the rest of my life; this is because people with this condition can only improve and be stabilized, but not definitively cured.  I therefore immediately began to investigate everything concerning this illness.

I then realized the great degree to which the Cuban population is now subjected to stress, since more than 90 percent of our society suffers from psoriasis.

The dermatological specialist told me that psoriasis can be caused by other factors, but that in the case of Cuba the largest percentage of the affected population suffers as a result of the soaring stress levels we experience daily.

She also informed me that there are currently 29 types of psoriasis, as well as multiple treatments that can be effective for some cases but not for others.  She especially emphasized that the best treatment for any type of psoriasis is tranquility, knowing how one can control their own body when faced with stressful situations.

While she told me this, I reflected over her words.  She was admitting how difficult and sometimes impossible it is to remain immune to the thousands of problems we are presented with daily – especially the poor habits in our society, which denote a tremendous lack of consideration and respect for our fellow beings.  Such behavior also kills, makes people sick and destroys people regardless of how physically strong they may be, since our mental health is slowly being destroyed.

This led me to ask my why these aspects of society aren’t emphasized in media campaigns.  Why aren’t people fined for disrupting the balance, peace and harmony of the Cuban population’s mental health?  Do we perhaps think that only H1N1 or AIDS can cause the destruction of human beings?  To what point are we going to continue being so indulgent with people who destabilize lives through their very conduct?

Is it that those people who are supposed to control the uncontrolled are also out of control?  There’s been a lot spoken about nonviolence lately, while these too are categorical acts of violence in every sense of the word, because they are directly threatening our mental health, which is as important as our physical health.  Why don’t we protect both: the body and the mind?

This all made me think back to my student years at the University of Havana, where my Latin teacher spoke to us about the great thinkers and an expression that was a landmark of historical truth: Mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body).

One thought on “The Other Pandemic

  • Thanks very much for a timely, well laid out social crisis that have been creeping up for years, have been ignored and is now reaching a breaking point. May those in authority read and heed this desperate call for help. Thank You.

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