Social Distancing and Mental Health

Everyday it seems like more and more measures are being put in place to keep people physically apart in an effort to combat the Coronavirus (COVID-19). While this is necessary to keep us healthy and to stop the spread of the virus, social distancing overtime can have a negative psychological effect on many people.

Yesterday, the governor of the state I live in (Florida), issued a stay-at-home order which bans all non-essential activities and asked people to stay home as much as possible. Schools are closed. Bars are closed. Hair Salons are closed. Most restaurants are closed except for take out. It is a necessary measure and one that most other states have also put into place.

However, the loss of social connection for some people cave have a devastating impact. 

Research on people who have been quarantined (an extreme form of social distancing) during events such as Ebola, SARS and the H1N1 flu show that many experienced short and long term mental health problems.  Many reported increased substance abuse, stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia even three years after the quarantine ended. 

While most of us are not under a quarantine, they are other byproducts of social distancing that can effect our mental state including the negative effect on the economy.

A record number of people have lost their jobs and have filed for unemployment. Many are struggling to pay their rent and other bill. They are facing uncertain and unpredictable futures. This can cause a number of mental health challenges for anyone, but especially for those already struggling with mental health issues. 

This doesn’t even take into account that many kids are also home which can cause added stress to parents. Think about a couple who is already struggling to get along and add the stress of kids being home, financial instability and everyone being forced to be around each other more than they usually would and you could have the recipe for a disaster.

The elderly are particularly at risks for not only the Coronavirus, but for mental health problems due to increased social isolation.

A lot of elderly people already feel isolated and have few or shrinking support systems. Many already felt lonely before the increased social distancing started. Now having visitors is discouraged and seeing loved ones face to face may be impossible.

A study done In 2015 by Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues suggest that loneliness and isolation can increase the risk of someone dying earlier than if they were not lonely. That’s a sad thing to think about when we are forced to social isolate to protect each other, especially the elderly.  

The majority of people will be perfectly fine during this pandemic. Some people naturally social isolate as is and their lives have minimally if at all been affected.

Others will get closer to their families and connect over social media, telephone, Face-time, etc.  However, nothing can substitute for face to face human interactions such as hugging and holding hands which can positively affect someone’s health both mentally and physically.

Imagine being sick in the hospital and not being allowed any visitors due to the virus. It’s  for your safety and the safety of your loved ones, yet you are being deprived of the connection and human touch you may need at the worst time. 

Fortunately, we due live in a time of incredible methods of communication and  there are a lot of telehealth and telepsych options for people who may need additional support to get them through this period. 

We have to practice social distancing to get through this and we have to obey the stay-at-home and other orders given by our authorities to keep our communities safe, but let’s not forget about those who may need a little extra attention during this time so that they don’t feel forgotten and they don’t fall into a mental health crisis without their support system there to help. 

We can stay home and yet still find ways to stay connected with each other.

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