“It is likely that more people will see impacts on their mental health and well being than will suffer serious physical affects of the illness.” – Canadian Psychological Association.
With public concern focused primarily upon the risk of infection from COVID-19, little attention is being afforded the psychological impact of forced isolation. Homo sapiens is a social species, and social contact is considered to be a fundamental human need, critical to well-being and survival.
According to Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, and author of “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review”, lack of social connection presents health risks equivalent to smoking or alcohol abuse. She’s also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Holt-Lunstad says.
Dr. Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist at York University explains that there are two different types of loneliness: reactive, experienced during life transitions; and chronic. “If reactive loneliness is painful, chronic loneliness is torturous.” According to Dr. Louise Hawkley of the University of Chicago, author of “Perceived Social Isolation, Evolutionary Fitness and Health Outcomes: A Lifespan Approach”, loneliness can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical, mental and cognitive health. Hawkley points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life. In addition, a 2019 study led by Kassandra Alcaraz, PhD, MPH, a public health researcher with the American Cancer Society, found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race. “Our research really shows that the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity.” A 2016 study led by Newcastle University epidemiologist Nicole Valtorta, PhD, for example, linked loneliness to a 30 percent increase in risk of stroke or the development of coronary heart disease.
Social isolation it seems is very unhealthy.
The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) identifies a number of demographics who are likely to respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis, and therefore at greater risk from social isolation as a result of the current COVID-19 restrictions:
- Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
- Children and teens
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, or first responders
- People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use
- People who tend to worry – particularly about their health, or who have experienced a previous or recent traumatic event
- People who live alone or have few social supports.
According to the CPA, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
As the Quarantine Act continues to drastically impact our daily lives, many Canadians are beginning to wonder how long they will be forced to isolate. The growing volume of conflicting data and doomsday predictions raise legitimate questions regarding the soundness of current strategies. Some wonder whether the cure might ultimately prove to be more harmful than the disease.