Augustine: Validation during COVID-19 is important


Kathryn Augustine, Opinion Editor

The unemployment rate is at a startlingly high 14.7 percent. Over 1.6 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and 100,446 people have lost their lives. Nearly half of Americans reported in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that COVID-19 is negatively affecting their mental health.

COVID-19 is influencing Americans profoundly. Objectively, the issues that some Americans — particularly marginalized communities — are facing are larger and more crippling. Losing a family member to COVID-19 trumps frustration about closed restaurants.

However, the magnitude of someone’s issues does not warrant invalidation.

People coping with issues that are not as debilitating are sometimes met starkly with “People are dying.” In other words, “Your feelings do not matter. Your problems aren’t ‘bad’ enough to warrant support.”

Not shockingly, that type of response will not absolve someone’s fears, concerns and frustrations. Those will remain even if you point out that other people are struggling to a greater degree. A response wrought with invalidation will accomplish nothing besides adding a layer of guilt. And where is the logic in worsening the emotional state of someone? What is the purpose of adding negativity to an already disastrous time?

There’s a misconception that if you’re concerned with something smaller in your own life amid COVID-19, then you’re selfish — people are dying and you’re concerned with the fact that you can’t get a haircut? However, I don’t believe that concern is mutually exclusive. You can be frustrated that you can’t get your haircut while acknowledging the gross injustice of black communities that are disproportionately impacted. For many people, getting a haircut is part of a self-care routine, part of normality. Validating someone’s frustration about their hair does not necessarily mean that you are invalidating larger, systemic issues.

Unlike toilet paper, hand sanitizer or masks, validation is not in limited supply. There’s no need to pick and choose to whom you offer support. And often, assumptions about someone and their situation can be misguided.

For instance, many college students are upset at the fact that they aren’t on campus. While on the surface this is less of a hardship than finding a job to support a family of six, there can be other factors at play. Perhaps that student has no support at home. Perhaps that student’s family life is not ideal. Perhaps the interruption in normalcy is just overwhelming for someone with an anxiety disorder. Those factors may be invisible to friends and peers.

To jump to the conclusion that someone has no perspective and is blinded by their own privilege because they want to be on campus is not fair. I’m not asserting that there aren’t any self-concerned, ignorant individuals who want to absolve their COVID-19 anxiety and anger at the cost of others. We see these individuals refusing to social distance because they are vying for socialization and travel. However, I don’t believe that every person has a callous attitude about COVID-19.

We cannot think about COVID-19 in a black-and-white manner. There is a continuum. People are certainly at each end, but I believe that the majority lie somewhere in between.

Kathryn Augustine is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.