Depression, lockdown and naturism.
Though no official figures are available yet, it seems from comments by multiple mental health professionals and GPs that the cumulative effect of fear of the Coronavirus and the loneliness of lockdown have sent rates of anxiety and depression soaring in Ireland. It is not difficult to see why. The limitations placed on contact with other human beings are necessary if we are to reduce the spread of this dreadful virus, but those same limitations require us to adapt to a life of deliberate social isolation.
That very condition, social isolation, is recognised as a common sign of depression, when it is observed together with other signs and symptoms. In lockdown it is not just a condition; it is a deliberate behaviour. We inflict this on ourselves, even though it puts us at risk of depression.
For one group, however, the lockdown has been a time of huge growth in their numbers worldwide. Naturist associations across the globe report a significant increase in active membership, and a corresponding increase in casual naturism, i.e. people who are not affiliated to naturist associations being prepared to go fully unclothed to sunbathe or swim at beaches and public parks.
There is also strong anecdotal evidence of a huge increase in the practice of home nudity. Understanding this phenomenon requires one to understand the dynamics of naturism itself. To shed one’s clothes to be nude alone at home is liberating, uplifting, daring, exciting, and different. You feel energised, almost like a new person.
You know that we are only a few short years past a time when you could be arrested if you were spotted naked from the street, even though you were in your own dwelling. Not long ago, to be naked, even alone in your home, would have been considered disgusting, maybe even perverted.
What has changed our attitudes so much? For one thing, the law has changed, making it safer for us all to practise the naturist lifestyle. With it, people seem to have become more open-minded about seeing body parts that are normally covered.
What is certain is that the majority of people who have taken the risk and bared all report a sense of feeling accepted, respected, and affirmed by the presence of other naked people around them, people who don’t judge your figure, who respect your privacy, and who generally behave decently towards each other.
This is exactly the sort of human interaction that boosts our mental health. Being around likeminded people, in pleasant company, where there is a shared level of respect and acceptance, builds our self confidence and independence, and promotes our sense of wellbeing. This is especially true for people who have anxiety about their appearance, their figure, their weight, or scars from surgery. In gatherings of naturists, people not only do not judge your appearance, often they don’t see the physical features that cause the anxiety, because we relate to each other as human beings with genuine respect for others. It is the naturist way.
Another mental health-related aspect of naturism is the fact that friendships are easily made, and this expansion of one’s social circle is a strong predictor of lower chances of becoming unwell mentally. Nudity is a proven leveller. Clothes and jewellery are silent statements about our social status. Take those away and what is left is a person to whom status is unimportant, because we go to a place emotionally that is much more secure than the world where status protects us and gives us a certain competitive identity. When we are naked, it is just us, the human being who is safe to get to know, who has nothing to hide, and who is guaranteed to share your love for life.
Is it any wonder that our mental health benefits from this simple sharing of space with others who trust themselves, and each other, to behave with respect towards one another?
In the absence of physical gatherings, “pub nights” and other social meeting places are replicated online, affording many people the chance to mingle via online programmes.
In 2022, when we will hopefully be rid of this virus, it is likely that this growth in popularity of social nudity will translate into larger and more frequent naturist gatherings in Ireland.
There are few things as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
One senses that for mental health driven by naturism, that time has come.