Coronavirus and mental health...
Since the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, many of us, even those who have not been infected by the virus, chose to quarantine in our homes. Capsized travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over scarce resources and information overload led some to unchecked anxiety and feelings of isolation.
One of the feelings millions of us are experiencing during the current corona virus pandemic is loneliness. In our combined efforts to stay safe and save lives, our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces have been put on pause.
As countries were affected by the COVID-19, the elderly population was told to self-isolate in the UK, and elsewhere. This attempt to shield the over-70s, and thereby protect over-burdened health systems, came into being as worldwide countries enforced lock downs, curfews, and social isolation to mitigate the spread of the disease. However, it is well known that social isolation among older adults is a “serious public health concern” because of their heightened risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems. Many people who I spoke to said that social disconnection put them at greater risk of depression and anxiety.
According to a survey of UK adults which took place during lock down (2 – 3 April), one in four (24%) said they had feelings of loneliness in the “previous two weeks”. When the same question was asked shortly before lock down, just one in ten people (10%) said they had these feelings. In a matter of weeks, social distancing left millions more people in the UK feeling isolated. Young people aged 18 to 24 were the most likely to experience loneliness since the lock down began. Before lock down, one in six (16%) said they felt lonely. Since lock down, young people were almost three times more likely to have experienced loneliness, with almost half (44%) feeling this way.
Many of us feel lonely from time to time and these short-term feelings shouldn’t harm our mental health. However, the longer the pandemic goes on for, the more these feelings become long-term. Long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased stress. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.
Doing good is good for our mental health, so now could be a good opportunity to help someone else who might be feeling lonely. One idea is to get in touch with someone who lives alone or might not have many relatives or close connections to check in on them. A message or a phone call could make a big difference to someone who hasn’t heard from anyone in a while. If it’s a neighbour, you could even share something you’ve baked with them - at a safe distance. If you know someone who struggles with technology, now could be a good time to talk them through setting up something like Skype or Zoom at home. This could make a huge difference to their social interactions in future.
Remember, no one is exempt from feeling lonely at times. All of us, at some point or other during this corona virus pandemic, will feel cut off from our loved ones. However, some of us will have greater access to technology than others, or more social connections. Letting go of illusions of control and finding peace in the fact that you are doing your part to “flatten the curve” will certainly build mental strength to combat the stressful situation the whole globe is experiencing.
To conclude by caring for each other, checking in on people who are more isolated, or even volunteering for a helpline, we can help prevent a loneliness epidemic.