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1st Place Submission: Why does an empire fall?

Author: Ishan Singh

This article is being featured as the winning piece in SEIC Opinionated Piece Competition 2021. Participants were tasked to comment about the following question: "The imposition of lockdowns during the pandemic was the best compromise between public health and the economy".

It’s true, Rome’s final years were marked by invasions from Huns and Barbarians. But the Romans had faced invasions before. So, why now, did the finest military of the ancient world succumb to those who wished ill upon it? Well, the new invaders came with sharpened swords. But more importantly, they came up against cracked armour. Rome’s downfall began, not with a battle, but with neglected civil needs, rising unemployment, and a widening class divide (Heather, 2011).

In February 2020, our empire — a small island nation of five million people — came up against an invader too. And by April, the entire city was locked down. It was as if no other problems mattered until this one had been resolved. Over 20,000 were soon left without a job as unemployment rates surged past their peak from the global financial crisis (Phua, 2020). The cracks in our armour became more visible now than ever before.

During the circuit breaker period, there was a 22 percent increase in cases of domestic violence (CNA, 2020). Stress and social isolation were cited as potential reasons for this increase. Yet, mental health treatment was addressed as no more than a passing note. Calls to suicide hotlines went up (Phua, 2021). Patients stopped attending therapy sessions in fear of contracting the virus, and though teleconsultations were offered, these weren’t an option for those without privacy at home (Tai, 2020).

Some might argue that, alongside the economy, this was a necessary sacrifice — that mental health concerns were an inevitable consequence of the pandemic. But, in reality, these concerns could’ve been addressed long prior.

In 2010, a study first revealed that 82.1% of Singaporean residents with mental disorders weren’t receiving treatment (Choo, 2018). Six years on, the proportion had only seen a slight budge down to 78.6% (Choo, 2018). Before the pandemic ever hit, we’d ignored a decade’s worth of warnings to make mental health care more affordable and accessible.

In response to COVID-19, there was a reason for thousands to be in isolation. There was a reason why so many lost their jobs. These are consequences which can be justified. However, what can’t be justified is why these people weren’t given the means to cope with their struggles — why, in these pressing times, they couldn’t get help for their stress and anxiety; why some turned to abuse while others fell victim to it. These issues weren’t created by the pandemic, much like the Roman class divide wasn’t created by the Huns.

Looking back at the lives saved and chaos controlled, it might seem that lockdowns were our best compromise. But looking back even further, it becomes apparent that we gave up our chance at an even better one when we decided our own systemic problems weren’t worth solving.


  1. Choo, C. (2018, December 11). More people in Singapore have experienced a mental disorder in their LIFETIME, study finds. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

  2. CNA. (2020, May 14). 22% increase in family VIOLENCE reports since start of circuit Breaker period: SPF. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

  3. Heather, P. (2011, February 17). History - ancient history in depth: The fall of rome. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

  4. Phua, R. (2020, October 30). Singapore's jobless rate climbs TO 3.6%; more than 20,000 retrenched year-to-date. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

  5. Phua, R. (2021, February 08). Covid-19: Worries about pandemic see more calls to mental health helplines. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

  6. Tai, J. (2020, May 08). Mental health fallout: HOW covid-19 has affected those in Singapore. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

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