Social Distance and Mental Health

Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard

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Social Distance and Mental Health
Loneliness is as harmful as cigarettes and alcohol. Photo by Jeremy Wong.

Mental health issues may be the next-wave threat associated with the coronavirus pandemic

According to research, loneliness is as physically harmful as cigarette smoking or alcoholism, and more harmful than obesity. Where does this leave us in the COVID-19 world? Even as restrictions lift slightly, staying at home when possible and maintaining social distance is advised. We have also been instructed by the Centers for Disease Control to wear face masks in public. While the reasons behind these measures are clear, the mental health consequences of isolation could become a second-wave disaster. In a recent survey, four out of ten adults reported that coronavirus-related stress has negatively impacted their mental health. Approximately one in five of them classify the impact as major. For most Americans, the psychological issues associated with the pandemic are “as important to address as…the physical health effects.” For anyone already suffering from mental illness or are at risk of developing it, this becomes more important, according to Mental Health America. Therapists have begun to see the psychological consequences of COVID-19. “I’m seeing a spike in overall anxiety and depression levels, with an emphasis on loneliness and fear about the future,” says Dr. Maria Nazarian, Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Liat Alon, Associate Marriage Family Therapist (see article “Ecotherapy,” The Canyon Chronicle, June 26, 2020), took one of her residential groups for a walk because they appeared “tired, haggard, and lethargic.” In addition to reports from private practitioners, the number of calls to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health has increased. Though most callers are seeking information, the department is gearing up for an anticipated increase in demand for services, according to H. Chung So, Public Information Officer. The impact of social isolation will vary between people. For some, shelter-in-place means hunker down with family or roommates. In a sense, these individuals are sheltered with their little pack. While nerves might get frayed, loneliness is less likely. Some individuals experienced greater isolation even before the pandemic, for example the elderly and those with physical or psychological challenges. These people may be hit harder during this period. Limited access to the casual interactions that occur in the community may create a damaging loneliness. “People who have daily meaningful in-person interactions” score significantly lower on the Loneliness Index than those who do not, according to a recent study conducted by Cigna. The verdict is still out on what counts as “in-person.” As COVID numbers increased, websites like Zoom, Facebook Live, and IGTV, make it possible for people to meet in real-time from home. The internet provides virtual space for dance and martial arts lessons, meditation and yoga sessions, cocktail parties, professional meetings, even visits with support providers. There is some research indicating that social media, email, and even telephone calls do not lessen the risk of depression, but online services that allow live face-to-face time provide more benefit. The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health advises that everyone use technology to stay in contact with friends and family. They are not differentiating between sites that allow live face time and those that do not. Their message is clear—to support positive mental health, stay in touch with significant people in any way possible. In addition, “exercise indoors or walk around the block if that’s possible and eat healthfully,” advises Chung. He also suggests that if the news and social media are creating feelings of anxiety, people should limit their consumption. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America agrees and suggests checking credible information sources for no more than two 30-minute periods a day. They also recommend sticking to normal routines as much as possible. Maintaining social distance is the best way to beat the virus, but it is crucial to engage in good mental health practices. Otherwise, an unexpected second wave could hit. References Cigna U.S., retrieved on 4/17/20 from Mental Health America, retrieved on 4/17/20 from Gupta, A., PsyD (2020). COVID-19 Lockdown Guide: How to manage anxiety and isolation during quarantine. Retrieved on 4/17/20 from: Horrom, T., (2018). In-person, but not online social contact may protect against psychiatric disorders. Retrieved on 4/17/20 from Kirzinger, A., Kearney, A., Hamel, L., & Brodie, M., (2020). KFF health tracking poll—Early April 2020: The impact of coronavirus on life in America. Retrieved on 4/17/20 from the Kaiser Family Foundation website,
Kait Leonard

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July 24, 2020