During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, American health officials noted a stark uptick in depression and mental illnesses due to social isolation. The pandemic caused one of the most widespread isolation events in history thanks to social distancing, remote working, and online education. Although essential workers were still able to attend their place of work and socially interact throughout their day, the other 52% of Americans, and 28% who live alone, experienced little to no human contact for the majority of the pandemic. Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing orders caused national levels of loneliness to rise by 30% and emotional distress within the United States to triple. For the past 10 years, Peter Sandhill, a workshop leader and wellness counselor, has spoken at a number of conventions and events on the importance of social wellness. In light of the past year’s events, Peter Sandhill will today discuss the importance of social wellness and the risks and warning signs associated with social isolation.
While dealing with severe depression or anxiety, it is common for those experiencing mental distress to isolate themselves from their family and friends. Although periods of isolation are common for different mental diseases and may not require immediate attention from loved ones, if periods last for long stretches of time, it can affect a person’s mental health, lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and increase the risk of heart disease.
While historically, the groups most likely to experience social isolation were solely the elderly, marginalized groups, and immigrants, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the American public that anyone can be impacted by social isolation. It is now more important than ever that Americans can recognize the symptoms and early warning signs of social isolation to help themselves and their loved ones during times of little to no social connection. It is important to note that, in the past, researchers have reported that those in specific age groups will show different symptoms of loneliness compared to other isolated people in other age groups. Those between the ages of 18-49 may have difficulty concentrating at work or school and increase their volume of food, while children below the age of 18 are more likely to experience behavioral and emotional distress. However, the most common warning signs of unhealthy social isolation across age groups include:
– Lack of sleep and poor self-care
– Aggressive behavior and apathy
– Feelings of extreme depression and social anxiety
– Feeling of distress during long periods of solitude
– Avoiding social interactions or previously enjoyable activities