The struggles of social distancing and mental health

Fairley Lloyd, Staff Writer

With the outbreak and rapid spread of COVID-19, people have been taking measures to reduce and slow down the spread of the virus, particularly for more vulnerable populations (the elderly and immunocompromised). Aside from basic hygiene (hand washing, covering your mouth when you sneeze, etc.) many people have practiced social distancing, social isolation and/or self-quarantining, depending on their situation.

Overall, the CDC encourages people to limit contact with others, especially those who have been infected. Many public venues have already canceled, shortened their hours, and/or limited the amount of people. If people can work from home, either school and/or a job, they are encouraged to do so. Of course, the hope is that by that time we will have found ways to treat the illness enough that it will not be so much of a pandemic for others. But, for right now, this is the world we are living in.

One issue I feel like is not talked about enough is another critical health issue that is a consequence of this virus, and that is loneliness.

Just like viruses are detrimental to your physical health, loneliness is detrimental to your mental health. It can make you feel disconnected from the world and even depressed. And then there is the fact that people just get plain lonely.

I am an introvert at heart, so I do not mind staying in. And in this decade of technology, it is easier than it has ever been to connect with friends through social media, text, over the phone, even Skype, just to name a few examples. I am not completely isolated.

But there is a reason we gather in groups; there is something about in person contact that you cannot replicate over technology. And I am starting to feel that myself. It has been weeks since I have seen most of my friends—in classes, between classes, for lunch, for school events. All the time I spent with them, I realized, I took for granted.

I miss my friends. I miss interacting with faculty and staff and other people I saw on a regular basis at school. Sometimes the loneliness is so much that it physically hurts. I have had clinical depression since high school, and I know isolation is one of the triggers that can worsen it. This is not self-imposed out of self-hatred but situations work both ways: I can isolate myself from depression (which will worsen my depression), and I can isolate myself for health reasons which worsens my depression.

I do not mean for this post to be depressing itself; I simply want to express the feelings that I, and I suspect many others, am experiencing at the moment in addition to anxiety over our physical health. For anyone who is in my situation, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are certainly not selfish for missing in-person contact with people. After all, health encompasses our mental state, too.

You are allowed to have mixed feelings. You can be upset by the lack of contact and also recognize why it is put in place. You are allowed to feel everything at once. It is okay.

If you need to talk to someone, reach out to your friends—this can be online, phone calls, text or whatever alternative method you can use to ease your state of mind while also not harming your mental health. Several mental health resources are often available to connect via text, telephone call, or forms of online communication.