Talked Covid: The growth of social isolation

Anger ManagementCOVID-19LonelinessSubstance Use

The Talked Covid series is a deep dive into the effects that COVID-19 has had on mental health, both towards individuals and the community at large.

As discussed in our previous article, many Australians are now back in lockdown due to COVID-19. One unintended consequence of lockdown has been the unprecedented safety responses to stop the spread of the virus has been the growth of feelings of social isolation. For many, this feeling of social isolation is a strange and uncomfortable sensation, however, this feeling is understandable.

What is social isolation?

Socially isolated people may lack social support such as friends or close family, and they often feel lonely or depressed.

The sensation of being alone is not necessarily bad. Most people crave solitude at least occasionally. Being alone can be relaxing, meditative, and rejuvenating. Instead, social isolation typically refers to solitude that is unwanted and unhealthy.

Social isolation can involve emotional isolation. Emotional isolation is where a person is unwilling or unable to share their feelings with another. When socially isolated individuals lack emotional interaction and support, they can become emotionally numb. Becoming emotionally numb can eventually result in a person becoming detached from their feelings.

Socially isolated people may lack social support such as friends or close family, and they often feel lonely or depressed. People who are socially isolated often also suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety. 

Who’s at high risk?

There are some groups of people who are disproportionately impacted by the effects of social isolation. These groups of people include:

  • Immigrants who are impacted by language, cultural and economic barriers. Further the limited social ties, particularly in recent immigrants can further compound social isolation.

  • Groups that are already marginalised, such as people who identify as LGBTQIA+, people of colour and other groups who, even without the presence of COVID-19, already face discrimination and stigma.

  • The elderly, who often live alone can be heavily impacted by social isolation. This is because the elderly often suffer from hearing and vision loss, which when compounded with COVID-19 can mean that reaching breaking through the isolation barrier is all the more difficult.

Effects of Social Isolation

Social isolation can have a severe impact on a person’s mental and physical health. As multiple studies have shown, mental and physical are deeply interconnected. The result of this interconnection is, especially when one suffers from social isolation, can result in consequences that can range from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Isolation and loneliness are also linked to poor cardiovascular health and cognitive function.

Links between social isolation and serious medical conditions are not fully understood, but ample evidence supports the connection. The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare points to loneliness and isolation as serious public health risks.

Post-Lockdown Anxiety

With people coming in and out of COVID-19 lockdowns, the unease associated with the uncertainty can result in people feeling afraid to leave isolation. This fear can stem from the fear of infection as a result of returning to work, school, or other outside activities. The social isolation that people experienced during lockdown can turn into a double-edged sword. Leaving the relatively secure and stable environment of one’s home introduces uncertainties and disrupts routines that many people have integrated into their “new normal.”  We delve into this issue of post-lockdown anxiety in the next instalment of Talked Covid.

When to seek professional help

The feeling of social isolation makes seeking help all the more difficult

Individuals who experience any or all of the following should consider consulting a medical or mental health professional:

  • excessive feelings of anger or fear;

  • inability to cope with daily problems;

  • major changes in eating or sleeping patterns;

  • prolonged depression;

  • social withdrawal; or

  • substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is struggeling with lockdown you should reach out. This is especially the case if you notice your loved one becoming socially isolated as they themselves may be hesitant to look for help. Finding the right help is necessary in beginning the healing journey.

When circumstances limit physical contact, people can connect with a mental health professional by phone or videoconference. Talked provides a safe and secure platform that allows people to connect with professionally trained therapists and counsellors.

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