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THE PSYCHOLICAL IMPACT OF ISOLATION DURING THE CORONAVIRUS 19 PANDEMIC

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I have previously written an article for Driven by Health Magazine on the topic of Social Isolation. I discussed that social isolation mainly affected the elderly population, however, I also argued that we were all at risk of social isolation, due to excessive engagement with technology, remote working  and increased e mail usage as opposed to face to face contact.

Little did I realise that 6 months later, a global pandemic virus, Coronavirus 19 would globally annihilate thousands, of people. Suddenly, out of nowhere, March 2020, terminology such as “Lockdown”,  “self-isolation”, and “social distancing “were being constantly used. The semantics of words such as “Lockdown”, became frightening, “social distancing” was in effect physical distancing of 2 metres. In the Uk as I write, there have been over  12,000 deaths and rising, from what has been described as “an invisible enemy” Our NHS and social healthcare providers have been working on the “front line” The psychological impact of this has affected each and every one of us in a manner that has rarely been seen in our lifetimes.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Great Britain was shocked, confused and many in denial, “it won’t happen to us as it did in China”-but it did, and draconian measures were taken with an “unprecedented” ferocity. Our elderly population were locked in their homes and not allowed to go out.  Our lives were turned upside down in a minute.  We have still yet to learn the psychological impact this has had on many, including those already suffering from existing mental health issues, especially as the virus is infecting populations with such rapidity and without mercy. Therefore, not only is the population at risk physically, but also psychologically.

Whilst, my previous article on social isolation described the challenging outcomes for elderly citizens, I was unaware at this time of how this vicious virus would exacerbate the problem not only to the elderly, but at present, to ourselves.  Suddenly the government ordered enforced containment to the elderly as they were a high-risk portion of the population, and whilst it is understandable that that this was to keep them safe, it can only have negative impacts on mental health. Contained in their own homes or care homes, unable to go out, unable to see their friends or family or at least from a 2 metre distance or from a window.  Those receiving care will have their carer donned in a mask and wearing gloves.  How must they feel? We already understand that isolation in the elderly causes:

  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced cognitive ability
  • Reduced mobility
  • Disinterest in self care
  • Lowering of self-esteem.

Is it not possible that we will be experiencing the same as we are in Lockdown? We, and the elderly are bombarded night and day with constant numbers of deaths, lack of Personal Protective Equipment and constant reports. Again, it is important as a nation we are informed, but the extent of the information and how we react to it must be a factor contributing to mental health and wellbeing. Recently families have been restricted and have not been able to say goodbye to loved ones at the end of life which surely must affect the grieving process and must be devastating.

Whilst society has been compassionate and responsive to each other, is it enough to combat feelings of being forgotten, lost, and confused as the Coronavirus 19 invades our psyches and violates our normal ways of life? The psychological effects of the virus on us all have been dramatic. Coupled with feelings of anxiety, we are experiencing the financial insecurities of job losses, reduced incomes, and fear of our economic futures. Isolation generates stress and irrational behavior. We have all witnessed scenes of people bulk buying and hoarding. Our initial positivity can be limited as we become de-motivated as one day rolls into another. We also cannot see our friends, go to the pub, eat out and have a shopping spree to name but a few of our curtailed social activities. I would argue that not only are the elderly at risk of the psychological impact of isolation and limited social interaction, but we are now all at risk of the adverse impact on our psychological health and wellbeing.

The impact of Coronavirus is out of our control, however how we react to is within our control. My advice is to maintain our psychological wellbeing is:

  • If you are working from home, have a designated workspace, Inform your family that this is where you work and cannot be disturbed at certain times.
  • Set yourself daily goals
  • Use as many productivity apps as you can to keep you on track
  • Exercise, even if you are in isolation
  • Stay connected. Take time out to call friends, have a laugh and share concerns.
  • Use the time to build your business
  • Clear out cupboards, have family time
  • Indulge in hobbies.
  • Watch the news, keep informed, but not confused.
  • Write down coping strategies.

I am not aware of any matrix as yet, but there may be some form of measurement being undertaken on the psychological impact of Coronavirus 19, however, I fear it will be more damaging  than expected. The strategies I have discussed may help maintain mental health and wellbeing as we are still facing the unknown.

Sabina Kelly

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