SOLVE magazine Issue 02 2021 | Page 4


Virus versus human ingenuity

Across the world , researchers from a vast spread of science disciplines have taken on the COVID-19 challenge . They , like the University of Portsmouth ’ s research community , have been a critical behind-the-scenes force bolstering community and industry responses . It has been passionate ‘ sleeves-up ’ science that has given hope and confidence for this and future challenges .

When his father died from a coronavirus-related illness , Dr John Leach experienced firsthand one of several notable psychological impacts associated with the global pandemic lockdown : alienation from the mourning process .

Unlike most people , however , Dr Leach is an expert on the psychology of human survival in extreme environments , including war camps and death camps . This includes familiarity with the toll that isolation takes on the human mind .
He has noted that the impacts of the pandemic lockdown have been similar to those experienced by people in extreme isolation . It was this understanding that allowed him to cope with his father ’ s passing by creating a more deeply personal mourning ritual .
In the same spirit of resilience , Dr Leach joined a large community of University of Portsmouth researchers applying their know-how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic on all fronts : psychological , clinical and epidemiological .
The research community has delivered practical measures , from helping people ’ s emotional wellbeing , to turning 3D printing into a high-speed manufacturing hub for protective medical headgear , and deploying advanced genomics science to track the spread of the virus and provide critical data for vaccine researchers . All of this knowledge and experience is invaluable now and , potentially , even more so into the future .
Dr Leach ’ s professional insights into the long-term mental health impacts of terror , and the attention that researchers such as him have given to COVID-19 , also validates the reality of the fear and uncertainty caused by a pandemic . In particular , it highlights the need for long-term community-wide care and mental health awareness .
THE PERSONAL FIGHT Dr Leach ’ s forte in the battle against COVID-19 is his ability to make sense of the perplexing psychological symptoms encountered by many people under lockdown . This has helped to inform coping mechanisms .
He says the pandemic creates a mental strain by the very fact it forces unwanted and challenging conditions onto people . Such a widescale disruption creates genuine anxiety . Adapting takes a lot of mental energy and given the brain is the body ’ s most energy-intensive organ , people become weary . It is not imagined .
“ You have to begrudgingly develop new routines and find ways to cope ,” says Dr Leach . “ That ’ s an energyintensive process that results in mental fatigue .”
He notes a similar loss of energy and motivation among people who work in polar stations in the
ISSUE 02 / 2021