The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing to the foreground the serious effects of extended social isolation. According to a recent New York Times article, “The psychological effects of loneliness are a health risk comparable with obesity or smoking.” The health implications are as serious as a heart attack. In fact, extended social isolation has been noted to cause heart disease, dementia, depression, and even death. The isolation was meant to help us avoid death due to COVID-19, but it is increasing our vulnerability to the very disease that isolation is meant to help address.
Statistics show that anxiety and depression have spiked during the pandemic. And apparently, there has been an 18% spike in overdose deaths with more than 40 states reporting increases.
Not everyone handles social isolation in the same way. According to an article in Sciencemag.org, a behavioral scientist at the University of Arizona, Chris Segrin says, “It’s important to remember that not everyone is going into this with the same level of mental health. Someone who is already having problems with social anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse, or other health problems is going to be particularly vulnerable.”
After nearly a full year, I doubt there’s anyone who isn’t feeling the stressful effects of the extended isolation and social distancing. The vulnerable population is growing. It is increasingly important to check in with your loved ones frequently to ascertain how they are handling the stresses. And it’s very important to stay in touch with those family members, friends, and colleagues you know who are more vulnerable. We have to take mental health effects as seriously as we are taking the physical effects. In fact, it turns out that COVID-19 lockdowns dovetail with years of science that shows social isolation isn’t just psychologically harmful to humans, but deadly. The virus has already claimed too many lives. Let’s do everything possible to keep the mental and emotional health of ourselves and our loved ones strong so we can get through this challenging time.