How Social Distancing During COVID-19 Crisis Could Affect Mental Health

As public health officials and the government is intensifying its efforts to slow down the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, people are being asked to stay at home, practice social distancing and follow other guidelines like the temporary closure of non-essential businesses and self-isolation.

And while such measures are necessary during the time of a pandemic such as this, the current situation is also diminishing the opportunities for Americans to have social contact, which might come at the cost of the mental health of others, especially those who are already living with pre-existing conditions.

“There are two major components to all mental health, and that is the sense of having control over your life and the sense that you have a network of positive relationships. And here we are in a situation where we don’t feel like we have hardly any control over our lives and we are told we have to isolate,” Bridget Mouchon-Humphrey, coordinator of Southwest Wisconsin Behavioral Health Partnership, said.

And while introverts who can thrive in limited social contact won’t mind the self-isolation, the truth is that the majority of people still need it to function, especially now that studies show loneliness and anxiety is rising among today’s youth, driven by multiple factors such as social media and the worries of an uncertain environmental and economic future.

In fact, a study back in 2015 revealed that social isolation increases our mortality rate by 29 percent because the chronic loneliness it causes activates our body’s stress response, which then increases the risk of high blood pressure, alcoholism, dementia and even depression.

As such, mental health providers and facilities are making changes to adapt to these new circumstances, with the majority of them opting for telehealth service transitioning.

Some addiction groups also continue to meet, especially in places where gatherings of less than 10 people are still permitted. And when it’s not possible, online meetings are held.

In the absence of physical get-togethers, people have also turned to technology to stay in contact, using apps such as Skype, Zoom or iPhone’s FaceTime feature.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Laboratory Test, Cure, Vaccine Extracting genetic material of the virus in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Pedro Vilela/Getty Images