It has been proven that social distancing is effective in slowing down the spread of viruses. It can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially in older adults. With the pandemic that is going on, people are practicing social distancing and isolating themselves to contribute to their part of keeping people safe and healthy. However, isolation can have a significant impact on your mental health, contributing to conditions like anxiety, depression, and dementia. For this reason, The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages others to keep socializing, but at a distance by phone or online platforms.
Effects of Isolation
Social support networks have a positive effect on mental health. Many countries are treating loneliness as a health priority at this time. Social connection is important for both physical and psychological health. Research has even shown that relationships are a biological need and vital to our well-being and survival. Some of the risks associated with loneliness and isolation can include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
Some researchers have identified links between loneliness and some physical conditions such as heart disease and breast cancer.
Who is at risk?
With the world currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations (like WHO) around the globe are urging people to continue to practice social distancing. Older adults are the leading age group to likely to the effects of isolation. Before the pandemic, researchers estimated that more than 8 million older adults were affected by isolation. One of the reasonings that older adults are more at risk of loneliness is that they experience the most life changes that can break social ties and make it more difficult to socialize, such as:
- Children leaving home
- Age-related health problems
People with health conditions or disabilities that limit physical activity may find it challenging to socialize outside the home. Age and underlying health conditions are both risk factors as well for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Other nations — including Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom — say that they are also facing a loneliness epidemic. Societal trends may also cause social disconnection. For instance, the average household size has decreased, more couples are deciding not to have children, lower attendance in social groups, lower participation in religious groups, and a decline in the average size of social groups in the U.S.. Some other factors that may make it more likely that someone would experience loneliness include:
- living alone
- being single
Some signs and symptoms to look for
Signs and symptoms that suggest isolation is affecting a person’s mental health can include:
- feelings of depression and anxiety
- aggressive behavior
- passive attitude
- poor sleep quality
- cognitive decline
- altered memory
- poor self-care or self-neglect
Researchers believe that loneliness and isolation can have different consequences depending on a person’s age. For example, someone aged 18-49 years old may struggle to focus or eat more frequently, while children and young adolescents may experience more cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties.
Finding ways to stay connected
There are many different ways to reach out to loved ones, friends, and those in need in today’s world. We have many different platforms you can choose from to connect with others, such as:
- phone and text
- social media
- video chat platforms
With the pandemic going on worldwide, it is a good idea to keep in contact with others in the community that may be at risk of isolation, loneliness, and health complications. Some good ways to remind them that there is always nearby support are:
- Calling them on the phone
- Knocking on their door and staying a safe distance away
- Setting up regular phone calls or video chats
- Sending care packages (groceries or medication drop offs)
When to seek help
People who are experiencing loneliness should seek help from their doctor or a therapist if they have noticed any of these signs of anxiety or depression:
- restlessness or irritability
- persistent worry
- sleeping too much or too little
- an inability to concentrate
- suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgement
- Call 911 or your local emergency number, or you can text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or any other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 1-800-273-8255, people who are hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.
Here is another helpful suicide prevention link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327007#hotlines
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