Dear Therapist: To Mask or Not To Mask

To Mask or Not To Mask

Dear Therapist,

Our state is making it mandatory to wear masks in any indoor spaces and any outdoor space that may have one close to other people. The problem — this is not enforced at all except for public shaming by glares and other non-verbal body language. No one is going to force anyone to put it on. I thought people would just naturally mask up to protect themselves and others. Not so! What do you think? This stresses me out and I don’t like to be in places where I see tons of people without a mask of some sort on these days.

Sincerely, Masked Up

This seems to be THE controversy brewing across America at this moment. People do not want to be told to wear something if they do not want to. As I was mentioning last week, people prize their autonomy in America over any sort of protection or value on community and society. The latter is valued as long as it does not impinge on one’s life or lifestyle in any way.

As such, not only are people not willing to wear them, but state governments are only comfortable making the recommendation but stop short of enforcement. Yes, people can give dirty looks and perhaps even say something directly to the other about it, but I doubt very much it is going to change how people feel about wearing their masks and/or whether they will actually start wearing them for having been shamed.

At some level, the masks seem to represent something about our personal freedom and liberty in America. It is not about public health safety. Until we start messaging this in a way that makes senses to a collective that prizes individual rights above all else the mask requirement will not succeed. I often think the messaging that the mask is not for you, but for the safety of others is completely the wrong message in America. This is the reason many will not do it as people are not valuing others, but rather self.

To undo this ethos is going to take more than COVID-19 and mask wearing. In the meantime, suggesting masks around an argument that preserves self may be the way to go. Americans get taking care of themselves and their own above all else. It sounds backwards and unscientific, but this is the era we live in.

I can hear how stressful it is for you to go out and see many not wearing masks. Debates are raging on social media regarding wearing them or not. There is, of course, a divide. All of us are charged with navigating this divide right now. It sounds like you are alway wearing a mask. This is what we control — ourselves. From there, the other important component is social distancing. So, keeping distance from everyone – whether wearing a mask or not – seems to be another way to be safe in public.

Beginning a discussion in your family, with your friends, community organizations you are involved with, and more may also be a place to start to move the needle away from our individual rights to what it means to build a society based on looking out for one another. This conversation needs to start in order to make something like collective mask wearing becomes something people feel is an autonomous choice that protects all.

This will take time, but there is hope we can move into this territory. In the meantime, mask up and be safe!

Dear Therapist Column Form

Have something on your mind? For questions about mental health, life, and anything in between, please submit the form below — I’m looking forward to hearing from you! If you are interested in therapy services, please contact me directly rather than submitting the form below.