Effects of Social Distancing
It has almost been a year since the pandemic began globally, which means by now we are all but too familiar with the term social distancing and its connotations:keeping at least two metres away from anyone outside your immediate social bubble and limiting the number of people you come into contact with all to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Alas, setting such social boundaries is not a ritual the human race is accustomed to. For the most part, we are used to crowded public places, greeting each other with handshakes, hugs, high-fives, barbecues, birthday parties, and going to the movies, sitting with our friends during class sharing snacks during lunch break. We never had to constantly beware of what we touched when out in public, and masks were the furthest thing from our minds. But the world is a different place now; new behaviours have been normalized. How has this affected our daily lives? With social interaction and physical contact previously being so common in our society, the impacts on peoples' mental health and wellness have proven to be exuberant.
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COVID-19 has been described as an “inherently social phenomenon.” The current approach for containing the virus is to limit social interactions. Communities and areas that have been successful in doing so have seen fewer cases of Covid (New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Greenland, etc.). Unfortunately, only some people adhere to such rules in other areas, subsequently causing a prolonged quarantine/lockdown period. Isolation and quarantine are intensive forms of social distancing, meaning social contact are almost entirely contained to whoever you reside with. This has given rise to conditions like depression and anxiety due to separation from family, friends, and regular acquaintances, the inability to move around freely due to restrictions, and lack of purpose due to lack of work. However, those with conditions before the pandemic suffer even greater. Societal expectations may deem mental health services and care as “non-essential,” reducing public access to services like therapy, counselling, social work, or centres. Active and dedicated efforts to combat these overlooked parts of the healthcare system are needed, and a more direct and unified public stance to acknowledge the significant mental health effects of social distancing and quarantine.
Image courtesy of abc.net.au.
A risk factor on its own, a decline in mental wellness can negatively impact one's physical state due to its effect on human behaviour. When you feel down or in a state of immense depression, think about what you physically do. It is common for folks suffering from depression to stay in bed, sleep more than normal, and neglect basic human needs like water intake or food consumption. With many of us at home now, it is simply just easier to do so. But there are consequences of such behaviour. The development of an eating disorder is linked to depression and lack of social interaction, and dehydration or malnourishment can occur. Additionally, the impact of a pandemic on mental health may not be fully studied until later on, when scientists can put effects into perspective, further contributing to the lack of research and current information people can go to regarding this topic.
Image courtesy of mywellbeing.com.
Studies have been able to capture a broad picture of how mental health correlates with the pandemic. However, researchers also need to consider the threat of the virus itself on mental wellbeing as another factor aside from just social distancing. Studies have shown social distancing has the possibility to "introduce or exacerbate" conditions of mental illness. That being said, researchers acknowledge that negative effects of social distancing in regards to mental health should not stop governing bodies from putting proven, effective methods to control the virus into place. However, it is worth it for the general public to consider how the healthcare system should address the virus's mental health impacts, as COVID-19 gradually becomes less of a concern. The problem is not the act of social distancing itself, rather the lack of public/governmental resources and awareness regarding this issue. The pandemic can be contained, mental health did not need to be impacted, but those who choose not to take the pandemic seriously and a lax government are the reason for the current situation.
Image courtesy of The World Economic Forum.
So, what does all of this mean?
The pandemic is at its worst right now. The second wave is upon us, and many provincial/municipal governments are imposing another phase of quarantine. Until the vaccine reaches everyone and the world calms down again, take care of yourself. The Ontario government is currently offering to pay for individual therapy for residents. Many organizations, both online and in-person at colleges and universities, are extending extra support right now. Take advantage of the support you are offered and prioritize mental health and physical health above all else. Social distancing is hard, but it is vital to the containment of Covid-19. Remember, limiting your bubble via quarantining and distancing is saving lives. Kudos to everyone taking the pandemic seriously and recognizing the importance of keeping your distance.
Image courtesy of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
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Article Authors: Maria Giroux, Mina Chong
Article Editor: Stephanie Sahadeo