Newspaper Op-Ed

It’s time we stopped kidding ourselves: ‘new normal’ is abnormal

Telling people to take care of their mental health is not enough

Brandon Hamber
4 min readMar 23, 2021


“Coronavirus — baby and mom” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In my work dealing with the impact of political violence, a constant challenge is reminding people that when addressing survivors’ needs during times of conflict, it is the social context that is often the primary stressor.

For example, as much as therapy for victims of conflict is useful, its value is limited if the conflict’s legacy persists and the social environment is destroyed.

You also cannot think about conflict without understanding that it has differential impacts. In Northern Ireland, for example, the neighbourhoods with the highest conflict death rate are those with the highest levels of poverty.

When it comes to addressing the mental health impact of Covid-19, it seems we have a similar situation. We are acting as if the pandemic is only a medical problem, a behavioural issue (wear your mask, wash your hands, socially distance) and finally, a psychological question of coping mentally.

The socio-environmental parts of the pandemic are under-emphasised, not to mention the political.

Yet, for many, their mental health in times of Covid-19 is not an issue of merely individual psychological coping mechanisms.

Mental well-being is undermined, for example, by losing your job, physical and psychological violence in the home during lockdowns, having a disability and living in cramped or unhealthy accommodation, among others.

Even those of us living in privilege are dealing with caring responsibilities, home-schooling, health issues and family and friends dying of Covid-19. All this in a context of 24-hour televised suffering and the Government failing to manage the process effectively.

Even for those lucky enough to have a good job, stress has been mounting over time, not decreasing. For many, the work experience (run from their homes) is like plugging holes in a sinking ship while continually eyeing the lifeboats.

Not to mention the daily struggles of healthcare and key workers on the frontline. There is no new normal, it is…



Brandon Hamber

Hume O'Neill Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at