In our current situation of quarantines and lockdowns designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to know that this comes at a cost, especially to those we are trying to protect. Older people are already vulnerable to loneliness, but this solution of “social distancing” is impacting those who are younger too.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, social isolation, and other mental health problems that may arise from long-term social distancing restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. But older people are who we are trying to protect right? In the words of my own mother (after telling her we will not be visiting over spring break so we don’t get her sick): “No one had better ever tell me I can’t see or hug my grandkids!” The longer these social distancing measures are kept in place, the greater the toll will be on our society’s mental health. In fact, some psychological experts are warning that losing everyday social connections comes with incredibly high costs to mental health, and it’s getting worse by the day. This is the harsh reality of social distancing that we all must face and the sooner the better for those who are having difficult times.
If you are struggling, please do know, that you’re not alone, and millions of Americans are in the same boat. Not only will we, as a society, have to deal with an economic depression when this is said and done, but we are going to have to reevaluate the way we’ve handled this pandemic because a mental health crisis due to isolation and loneliness has already begun. Humans are naturally social beings and prolonged isolation can take its toll.
Massachusetts has already noted a huge increase in calls to their suicide hotline as people struggle to cope with the isolation and loneliness or their fears of getting sick. “The majority of people [calling lately] are mentioning or talking about fear of contracting the virus, economic impact, increasing loneliness, or isolation,” said Kathleen Marchi, executive director of Samaritans, which runs a statewide 24-seven crisis hotline.
This is not limited to the state of Massachusetts either. There is limited research out there on the mental health effects of a long-term quarantine, but the research we do have is bleak especially when we consider the timeline. This “social distancing” and “economic lockdown” is dragging into the third week for most Americans – and longer for others and research indicated the toll on mental health could be intense.
Researchers evaluated 24 studies looking at the psychological outcomes of people who were quarantined, an extreme form of social distancing, during outbreaks of SARS, H1N1 flu, Ebola and other infectious diseases since the early 2000s.
Many quarantined individuals experienced both short- and long-term mental health problems, including stress, insomnia, emotional exhaustion and substance abuse. For instance, one study compared quarantined versus non-quarantined individuals during an equine influenza outbreak. Of 2,760 quarantined people, 34 percent, or 938 individuals, reported high levels of psychological distress, which can indicate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, during the outbreak compared with 12 percent of non-quarantined individuals. –source
Isolation amplifies feelings of suicide, say mental health experts. Social distancing and quarantines may trigger those who are currently dealing with suicidal thoughts. And research shows the social and economic fallout from the pandemic may amplify the risk for some people well after the outbreak has ended. Those deaths will also be harder to count.
“There are ramifications, sometimes fatal, with events like these that are not just related to getting infected or dying from infection or consequences of infection,” said Eric Caine, co-director of the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center. It is important “to honestly and openly consider that there might be adverse events that occur in the midst of social distancing.”
I do have some tips that could help you cope during these difficult times. I am devastated that there are Americans going through such hard financial and emotional times and it’s clear that “social distancing” has already proven devastating for our humanity. Maybe it will stop the spread of a virus, but at what cost?
First, if you are coping with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
You matter and your feelings are valid. If you need some help coping with isolation and fear, here are five things that you can do that won’t break the bank:
- Video Chat – I know it’s not the same as giving your loved ones a hug, but it might help. If you miss a person, just chatting on the phone may not be enough. Seeing a friend or family member healthy and well could really help put your mind at ease.
- Stay Calm – panicking and living in fear is hard on the body and it can take a toll on your mental health quickly. Turn off your TV for a few days, or at least stay away from the news. If you want to know what the weather will be like, look outside. Instead of absorbing all that fear, watch a comedy or a binge-watch a TV show that you love. Try to distract yourself with shows that you actually love, and ignore the fear. We all know what’s going on by now, and it’s OK to give yourself a few days break from the constant scare tactics. Here are 50 Things To Do During Home Quarantine to help distract your mind from what’s taxing your mental health.
- Focus on The Present Positives – are your kids off of school? Do you get to spend time with them all day now? Do you have the opportunity to help them learn good morals away from the school setting? What about your pets? Do you have the chance to spend time with them and take them for walks outside more often? Can you focus on your health and eat better by cooking your own food instead of eating out or buying processed foods? There are so many good things we can all focus on if we just give it a try! Happiness: What It Is, Why It Is Important, and How to Cultivate More of It
- Cultivate Gratitude – start being thankful for what you have. Be thankful you can learn more about your spouse. Be grateful for the electricity and running water. Be thankful you have food to eat. You can find an unlimited amount of little things to be grateful for! How To Cultivate Gratitude This Thanksgiving…And Every Day! For me personally, I am very grateful we have ducks. The store has had no eggs for two weeks and we are blessed to have 4 female ducks that lay 3-4 eggs per day! Because we get more than enough eggs for our family, I have been able to share this blessing with my friend so her family can still enjoy eggs right now too. Making others happy, makes me happy.
- De-Stress – for me, this is drinking a cup of herbal tea. It’s relaxing and calming. If you need to, take a bath. Some people love aromatherapy and lighting a candle with a certain relaxing scent could help you feel less stressed.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and ignoring the consequences of social distancing won’t do anyone any favors. It is hard on some people and has the ability to impact our society for the long haul. But we can do our best to help others and be there for them. This will not be easy for those who are hard hit, but we need to start a discussion about it so that in the future, we can learn better ways to handle crises than creating new ones with the solutions.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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