COVID-19 and Health: Why We Need an Interdisciplinary Approach to a Global Pandemic

2020has undoubtedly ushered in a world of change, from intense political conflict to the fierce Black Lives Matter protests that shook the nation; COVID-19 brought a wave of shock as it swept the world and forced us to alter our lifestyles in more ways than one. This pandemic has pushed us to rethink our own health, both physically and mentally, as scientists work on a way to end this pandemic. Although the future is uncertain, one thing is for sure: No one discipline can solve this problem. While we turn to the biological sciences to sequence the virus’ genome and look to create a vaccine, we must also think economically, environmentally, psychologically, and sociologically about this viral attack. We are headed toward an answer – science tells us as much – but how do we wrap our heads around the economic, mental, social, and even environmental debris left in this pandemic’s wake? In this case, Interdisciplinary Studies functions critically at the intersection of hope and health, transcending disciplinary walls to make connections across and between disciplines.

Medical face mask and dollar banknotes

Introductory economics course at CSU focuses on the impacts of COVID-19

A group of seven Colorado State University faculty took a new approach to an Economics 101 course this fall, team-teaching the course with a focus on the impacts of COVID-19.

A snippet of the class in which students discussed the monetary value of a human life with Associate Professor Terry Iverson was featured in an article in The New Yorker in December.

The course, which was delivered remotely, was much more wide-ranging than that. The faculty from the Department of Economics each taught a section of the class, covering their particular areas of expertise which included impacts on marginalized groups, food production and agriculture, women, and higher education. There was even a section on “greening” the post-COVID economy with sustainability efforts.

From an economic standpoint, this global virus has disrupted both supply and demand, domestically and internationally, in an interconnected world economy. Infections reduce labor and output while closures and the resulting job losses mean that there is no money to buy products. But economic charts cannot always predict human behavior and economists cannot always account for how individual personality functions to accept this “new normal.”

College life is especially difficult. The psychological angst felt by many on campus, away from family, is palpable as young adults head to class (either online or in person) anxious about an uncertain future and their own mental health, a kind-of psychological “profits” and “loss” not addressed by conventional economics. In general, any topic related to health, whether it be the economy, the self, nutrition, the environment, and so on—necessitates that we not only consider individuals within their lived contexts, but recognize the limitations of singular disciplinary thinking.

Economics cannot fully flesh out the complexity behind COVID-19 anymore than psychology can. Interdisciplinary Studies, however, gets us closer. With a complex systems approach, Interdisciplinary Studies generates a better understanding of the world as it brings together researchers and experts from various disciplines to work together and tackle complex problems. Our current health pandemic makes this clear.

As an interdisciplinarian, I understand that today’s health challenges require a synergistic approach. Understanding theoretical and methodological stances of other disciplines has helped me break down those disciplinary walls and open up a new space in which we can better understand our current health crisis. It is not just the health sector alone that will carry us through COVID-19 and beyond, but the integration of the economic, environmental, psychological, sociological, and political insights as well. Recently, interdisciplinary research has provided extensive insight into health inequalities, social stigmas of disease, religious and spiritual challenges to pandemics, and the effects of disease on natural habitats.

With a complex systems approach, Interdisciplinary Studies generates a better understanding of the world as it brings together researchers and experts from various disciplines to work together and tackle complex problems.

With many of the stay-at-home orders in mid-March, the stilled human activity has created a more peaceful world for animals and wildlife. For example, a study in Florida found that while female loggerhead turtles typically lay eggs around 50% of the time they crawl to shore, this rate has increased to 61% from the initial lockdown orders. Due to closures prohibiting people, dogs, and cars on the beach, and the limited use of bright lights and public resources, the lockdown has done some favors for our environment. Despite the drawbacks of this pandemic, it appears to have pushed us to re-trace and rethink how we interact with our surroundings, finding transformative ways to co-exist with other species and our environment.

Certainly, we are living in a world of greater interdependence that requires interdisciplinary solutions. The Coronavirus may have slowed things down, but it also gave us pause. Through interdisciplinary research, definitions are clarified, commonalities emerge, and intersections form. As a student whose academic focus is interdisciplinarity, I have been able to develop methods of integration and connection to heal, both personally and academically. I see the value of common ground and pulling together content from multiple disciplinary insights and perspectives to better understand our current health crisis. Interdisciplinary research is not only necessary, but foundational to providing innovative solutions to complex problems like health.

Lakin Dickson is a senior majoring in Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts.