A billion years ago, I studied psychology at university long enough to realise that it’s not for me. The ‘rats and stats’ nature of the subject didn’t gel with my more humanities-oriented brain, so I gave it up for other interests. But like every amateur scientist who does something unscientific for a living, I retain an avid interest in psychology. My disclaimer (that I am unqualified to give an opinion on anything) does not preclude me from having an opinion on absolutely everything. If you know me, you will laugh. It’s with this false humility that I begin my inquisitive poke into the topic of how the virus has/is/will effect the mental health of people around me, and myself.
For added gravitas, let me begin at the top. The Lancet (for all their recent blunders) published a recent study on the psychological impact of quarantine. Their meta-analysis relies on learnings achieved post-SARS, MERS, Ebola, and the H1N1 pandemics of 2009 and 2010. The analysis predicts negative psychological effects — PTSD symptoms, confusion, anger — and identifies common stressors like quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate basic supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma. Unsurprisingly, the researchers suggest the impact on persons from lower socio-economic groups will be much greater and more chronic compared to those with the means to ride it out in relative comfort.
Disclaimer: I’m in the latter group. Plus, isolation means nothing if you’re already isolated. All you introverts will get what I’m struggling to express. There’s no sense of entrapment (in the non-criminal law sense of the word) if you are Schrödinger’s cat by preference. Against this nihilistic backdrop, I read with trepidation the equally recent study in The Lancet Psychiatry which claims that increased social isolation and loneliness strongly correlate with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts across the lifespan. Increased isolation. Apparently, the cure is to promote ‘belongingness’ — which I doubt is a word, let alone a thing — but, be that as it may, it posits ‘digital poverty’ as a barrier to rescuing those at risk. I am not digitally poor, but if by ‘poverty’ they mean lack of interconnectedness (a real word, trust me) with other living, breathing, caring human beings, then I find myself in the highest risk category possible.
Nobody, literally, gives a shit about anybody. Let alone me. So this well-meaning study recommends the following:
- Attempt to schedule a regular one-on-one meeting with an isolated individual by video conference or telephone. This can be once per week or more frequent, but should be on a predefined schedule.
- Use the internet as much as possible to establish social contacts, but limit its use for acquiring news about the pandemic.
- Encourage group activities by video conference. There are innumerable opportunities now to join in groups from a diverse range of interests and the isolated person can be encouraged to join one or more activity and discussion groups online, even if he or she only listens.
- A pet may help.
I already have a pet. Fuck off with your video conferencing. One-on-one meetings would be lovely, but I just can’t see how it could possibly happen. The internet, however, at least offers an open door. Nobody wants to be lonely forever, forget the pandemic. If you can find a way to reach out to somebody you love, or have loved, then it will be worth the effort. We’re all just waiting for the dragonfly to land on our shoulder.