Social distancing is being advocated widely and rightly so, as contact is becoming the single most important factor in the spread of the new ‘Corona-Virus’ disease worldwide.
We need to be prepared for the fall-out. It’s not just the virus we need to eliminate but also the post-traumatic effects of social distancing and isolation which the quarantined people need to face post recovery. We are already finding that people are resistant to follow the directives and self-isolate or quarantine. In India we are still finding effected people travelling, escaping from isolation wards without paying heed to the government and Doctors advice on prevention and cure.
Four people who were stamped for 14 day quarantine by the medical health department had to be de-boarded after they got on to a train full of passengers. Gripped with fear, people are hoarding and stocks are quickly disappearing from the shelves. Some don’t want to be seen as the people affected by the new virus therefore avoiding medical checks when showing symptoms.
I was wondering, what is making people behave this way?
Fear from ‘isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ can have its effects on the mind and body. But why is isolation so difficult for humans to withstand?
One of the reasons that living in isolation is difficult is because humans are social creatures. Many people that have lived in isolated environments – such as researchers stationed in Antarctica – report that loneliness can be the most difficult part of the job.
Adventurers who go on solo sailing trips around the world, said that loneliness was what they suffered from most and most difficult to deal with than the elements of nature.
Loneliness can be damaging to both our mental and physical health. Socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situations.
They’re also more likely to feel depressed and may have problems processing information. This in turn can lead to difficulties with decision-making and memory storage and recall.
People who are lonely are also more susceptible to illness. Researchers found that a lonely person’s immune system responds differently to fighting viruses, making them more likely to develop an illness.
The impacts of social isolation become worse when people are placed in physically isolating environments. For example, solitary confinement can have negative psychological effects on prisoners – including significant increases in anxiety and panic attacks, increased levels of paranoia, and being less able to think clearly.
Prisoners have reported long-term mental health problems after being held in isolation.
People placed in isolation may also experience hallucinations. The lack of stimuli causes people to attribute their internal thoughts and feelings as occurring in the real world outside of the quarantined environment. They may start to imagine things and start to experience fear and paranoia about the eventualities. However, some people who have been held in social isolation against their will may develop long-term mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What can we do?
We know that connecting with other humans can reduce loneliness and help restore us to good mental and physical health. Therefore it is important that we not just handle the crisis of the corona virus pandemic medically but also mentally.
- Providing counseling helpline numbers for self-quarantined people
- Providing authentic / certified news to people so that they are not misguided in the time of extreme mental stress
- Providing for mental health professionals alongside Doctors to work with the effected people and hand-hold them along the tough journey
- Temporary suspension of ‘Group chat’; ‘Forwarding’; on social media apps to avoid spread of misinformation. Any post which uses ‘forward’ button or ‘copy-paste’ must be blocked. (though this seems extreme but maybe put to use to help the people and the families of those who are going through the quarantine process)
- Community briefing sessions by medical health professionals on prevention and cure. It cannot be just generic media publicity and then pray that people understand. Close face to face contact is what will help explain the whole process to the general population.
There could be many more we could think of. Importantly, let’s gear up for not just the physical fallout of the pandemic but the mental fall out as well.
I’ve seen some great initiatives by some of my wonderful friends from the network who have used #talktome as a way of helping people who feel isolated at home during the quarantine period.
What are your ideas? Please share in the comments and let’s help as many as possible.
Shout out to the Mental health and Medical professionals in my network.