What is the Impact of Social Isolation on your Mental Well-Being?

Actions you can take to Reduce Loneliness and Depression

As responsible residents of New Kent County, we have been asked by government and health care leaders to use social isolation as a means to slow the spread of the Covid 19 Virus. Social isolation works by increasing the distance between human beings and their secretions, sneezes, and coughs, thus diminishing the rate of virus transmission. For all of us, even for people who usually live alone, the inability to meet up with friends, invite people into homes, or participate in typical activities has suspended normal life as we know it. Isolation can cause a heightened sense of loneliness and emptiness, even for families, but particularly for those living alone. Loneliness lends itself to uncertainty that one might be cut off from needed supplies, water, food, or medications. It is known that those who feel lonely are more likely to experience depression, irritable mood, and anxiety. Symptoms of depression can include loss of interest in activities that bring pleasure, boredom, concentration problems, irritability, appetite or weight change, sleeplessness, or generally slowing down. And particularly for elderly, it might not be clear whether these are symptoms of aging, pending illness, or of depression. The point is, in our attempt to socially isolate to halt the virus, we are all battling the side effects of isolation. So, what can we do?

Foremost, it’s important to remember that we can still enjoy the outdoors by taking walks, playing games, gardening, or biking as examples. Spending as much time in the open air, getting adequate rest, and eating well is optimal. With all outdoor activities, we should interact most with those in our immediate family/friend unit, meaning those we have already had close contact with and live with. With others, you should do your best to maintain at least 6 feet distance and avoid all social groups or gatherings. We can still shop for food, gas, and medications. But, after touching publicly used areas such as shopping carts, door knobs, credit card machines or gas pumps, avoid touching your face or mouth until you have been able to thoroughly wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer. This is particularly hard for children who will need frequent gentle reminders not to touch their face or put their fingers in their mouths.

For those who might not be able to leave the house because of age or disability, a pattern of communication can be established among friends or family on a regular basis at a set time. This could be a phone call, a sidewalk to front door visit, a single person designated to make visits, or if the person has internet, a Skype or FaceTime call. Encourage the housebound person to maintain some form of consistent contact with the outside world. In England, a street of residents used a colored card system, green in the window if all was well and red if someone needed assistance in the household. Dropping off prepared homemade meals, handpicked flowers, or needed medications at the doorstep can decrease the anxiety of being without needed supplies. Making sure a family pet is adequately fed and housed can relieve stress.

Knowing that someone cares about your well being goes a long way to decreasing the feelings of loneliness. Family and friends can demonstrate care for each other in these ways, without exposing the housebound person to the virus. This is particularly important for the elderly in our community who have experienced the worst outcomes of the virus. The elderly require the most protection through social isolation and also the most care to prevent the side effects of loneliness.

We all hope this is temporary.

New Kent County’s Health Department personnel are available to answer questions, at (804) 966-9640. The Virginia Department of Health has set up a Hotline for NKC residents, call: (804) 365-3340.