Tenacity of the human spirit


Sir, – More than four million people have been infected with Covid-19. Over 277,000 have died, including more than 1,400 in Ireland.

A century ago, the Spanish flu also swept across the world, causing the deaths of up to 50 million people, including over 20,000 in Ireland.

In January 1920, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Sophie, fell victim in Hamburg. Two days after Sophie’s death, Freud wrote that “the undisguised brutality of our time is weighing heavily upon us”.

Just like Covid-19, the Spanish flu saw many people struggle with loss of life, loss of livelihood and loss of hope.

Also like today, however, people found ways to adapt, abide and survive.

The losses are very real, but so is the tenacity of the human spirit.

Freud saw reason for hope in logical thought and considered action. “The benefits of order are incontestable”, he wrote. And, presciently: “We are not surprised by the idea of setting up the use of soap as an actual yardstick of civilisation”.

As with the Spanish flu, “the undisguised brutality of our time” will pass, hastened by public health measures, economic interventions and deep compassion for all who suffer. As Freud advised, “the healing power of love . . . is not to be despised”. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Psychiatry,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.