Loneliness and Isolation – An Epidemic Within a Pandemic?

Loneliness and Isolation – An Epidemic Within a Pandemic?

By Olivia Nash-Dolby.

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been a common experience for many of us during COVID-19 times. This has led to concerns that the global coronavirus pandemic is creating a loneliness epidemic.

This might sound obvious – after all, the words “social isolation” are used all the time when talking about the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Let’s look at this a little closer. Loneliness and social isolation tend to go together, however, there is a distinct difference between the two. Loneliness is an emotion we experience when the social connection we want is less than the connection we actually have. Social isolation is determined by the number of people and connections, or lack thereof, around us. This means we can have many social connections, even close connections, and still feel lonely.

This is important because unaddressed loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of physical health issues (like heart disease and strokes), as well as mental health concerns (such as depression and anxiety). Loneliness and social isolation can affect anyone at any point in their life, but we know that young people (aged 18-25 years), older adults (aged 75+ years) and marginalised groups (such as LGBTQIA+ communities) are at a higher risk of experiencing these concerns.

But don’t worry just yet! All of us have the ability to combat the loneliness and social isolation epidemic and help others overcome it too. You might ask, “How can we do that in COVID-19 times when we have to isolate to slow the spread of the virus?”

Small, simple actions go a long way here, and they have great value. This could be a text or a call to a loved one to check up on them. If you care about someone, let them know. Likewise, if you need a shoulder to lean on, reach out for help too (this might be a friend, family member, housemate, mental health professional or GP). In this way, lockdowns could be an opportunity for us to talk more openly about loneliness and social isolation.

It is important to mention that there is nothing inherently “bad” in the feeling of loneliness and no shame in admitting that you are feeling lonely. It is only when we recognise our feelings that we can go about making a change for the better.

COVID-19 lockdowns, and resulting loneliness and social isolation, also provide a chance for us to look inward and re-evaluate our values and goals. We could consider questions such as, “What is really important to me?”, “How do I become the best version of myself?” and “When am I at my happiest?”. Perhaps we can reframe our solitude as a cathartic and creative force. Is there something you wanted to do for yourself, but felt you haven’t had the time? Maybe you could find a new hobby, or finish knitting that scarf that you started in Lockdown 2.0.

Because loneliness and social isolation affect everyone differently, there is no single, tried-and-true way to alleviate the burden of the loneliness epidemic. Try thinking about the kinds of connections you are missing and possible ways to forge them. While the pandemic has disrupted our social lives, loneliness and isolation are now experiences that we are all familiar with on some level – and in this way, we are all connected.

This blog was written by Olivia Nash-Dolby, to learn more about Olivia’s experience, click here.

To book an appointment with Olivia or one of our other Psychologists, click here

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