Martyna Bobek is a Licensed Social Worker and a Certified Trauma Professional in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in neuroscience-informed psychotherapy for trauma and stressor-related disorders. As an active content writer, Martyna publishes articles in the mental health niche and writes for multiple mental health websites. In her free time, Martyna enjoys going on walks with her bulldog Chubs, reading Harry Potter, and attempting to play Queen on the piano.
The impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating worldwide. Canceled birthdays, sporting events, even going to work have all taken a toll on us, and we’ve never felt more socially isolated and lonely.
In fact, loneliness has increased by 20% to 30% since the start of the pandemic, leaving many of us having a hard time coping. And long after vaccines have been distributed, COVID-19’s mental health effects will linger.
This article takes a look at how isolation affects people, how to recognize signs of emotional distress, and when to seek mental health care.
Humans are social creatures. And just like our natural need to drink water and eat, it’s in our biology to feel a deep sense of connection and belonging. When we have it, it tells us that we’re safe. And when we don’t, it causes increased emotional distress.
How has social isolation affected people?
Social isolation affects everyone differently, but here are a few ways to consider when isolation can become harmful to mental health:
Caregivers: Caregivers worldwide have been suffering from compassion fatigue. Caring for a family member or your children can be incredibly isolating, especially throughout the pandemic. Carers have been taking on more tasks to keep themselves safe while staying mindful of the needs of others.
Children: Some of the pandemic’s worst mental health effects have emerged in children – kids need social interaction as a part of healthy development. And within the disruption of the last school year, they’ve been missing the social interaction that came from the classroom, clubs, sports, and play.
Grieving a loss: People have been restricted from visiting loved ones in the hospital, traveling overseas to visit sick relatives, and attend large gatherings, such as funerals. Being withheld from saying goodbye or fully grieve the loss of a loved one can be traumatizing.
Health care professionals: The pandemic has become an occupational hazard for healthcare workers, as they’ve put their own mental and physical wellbeing on the line continuously. But due to the increase in mental exhaustion and trauma healthcare professionals have witnessed within the last year, many of them are considering leaving the field entirely within the next two to five years.
History of depression or anxiety: Those who have a history of mental health issues are at a greater risk for being affected by isolation throughout the pandemic.
Seniors: Adults age 65 and over are physically more at risk of contracting COVID-19, so many have taken extra precautions to distance themselves from other people throughout the pandemic. However, the loss of support from friends and family leaves seniors feeling especially withdrawn and isolated.
Signs of distress
It’s important to recognize when you’re having a hard time or when your coping mechanisms are no longer working for you. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following signs of distress, consider reaching out:
Long after we’ve gained control of the virus, the mental health repercussions will likely continue to exist. And yet, over 70% of people with diagnosable mental health conditions do not receive treatment worldwide due to the stigma of seeking professional help.
But surprisingly, this isn’t as present as it was before COVID-19. As we’re all experiencing similar threats to our wellbeing, COVID has also connected people worldwide in a new way. People have become open about discussing and learning about mental health issues, and in the future, talking about mental health will be a new norm.
We, as people, are resilient. We’ll ultimately get through COVID and the mental health pandemic. Nevertheless, we need to work together and address these mental health problems now to ease a mental health pandemic that lasts far beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to a loved one or a mental health professional to get the care you deserve.