Psychologists worry coronavirus pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic
As psychologists worry that the coronavirus pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic, new Harvard research suggests feelings of social isolation are on the rise and that those hardest hit are older teens and young adults.
During the worst stages of the coronavirus, when lockdowns were in force, many people suddenly realised just how important friends, family and colleagues are.
Then, when we couldn’t see anyone at all, many of us discovered loneliness for the first time. But loneliness is something many of us experienced before and now after, the enforced isolation of the pandemic.
People are social creatures, and we need interaction with others to help us stay happy and healthy. According to a Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research report, “satisfying social relationships are essential for mental and physical well-being”.
“Since the time of dawn, loneliness is perceived as a global human phenomenon. Loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease,” states the report.
Loneliness is a serious social and health issue, linked to poor mental health and early death.
Social scientists have been concerned about loneliness in recent decades because of such things as rising individualism in the Western culture and an increase in single person households. COVID may have accelerated the impact of such changes.
And although social media has helped connect with family and friends, it has not overcome an overall increase in loneliness or adequately substitute for physical interaction. A recent study found many people suffering from “touch hunger” or lost physical connection, and a dissatisfaction with videoconferencing.
The US, like other Western societies, is an increasingly “hyper-individualistic society,” where many people often choose to focus on the well-being of their small circle of family and friends., says said Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In the recently released results of a study conducted last year by researchers, 36 percent of respondents to a survey of approximately 950 Americans reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the prior four weeks, compared with 25 percent who recalled experiencing serious issues in the two months prior to the pandemic.
Weissbourd, who helped lead the survey, says eliminating loneliness requires a robust social infrastructure. To further reduce the stigma associated with loneliness, he also recommends the creation of national, state, and local campaigns that stress the importance of maintaining social ties, and reassure those suffering that it’s OK to seek help.