Opinion: Effects of pandemic isolation on mental health – Traverse City Record Eagle

Gregory

Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health has suffered due to the pandemic, according to a recent poll. Measures to protect public health — like closing schools, limited staff, business closures and social distancing — can lead to greater isolation and loneliness, which is linked to poor mental health outcomes.

Social isolation affects everyone differently, but it’s also a risk factor for suicide. Here are some situations to consider in which isolation could harm mental health:

  • Behavioral or developmental disorders: Impairments with learning, language, physical movement or behavior may lead to difficulties accessing information, taking preventative measures against the pandemic or communicating their symptoms if they are sick. They’re also more at risk for anxiety and depression, which is exacerbated by isolation.
  • Caregivers: Caring for an older parent or sick child can be isolating during the pandemic. Keeping the household safe from exposure to COVID-19 may mean caregivers take on more tasks instead of finding outside help.
  • Children: With the school year disrupted, many children may miss the social interaction that comes from sports, activities and classes. Adolescent children who are more at risk for depression may experience greater reactions to the new social limits and act out at home.
  • Grieving loss: The pandemic makes grieving even more difficult with restrictions on travel and large gatherings. Many severely ill COVID-19 patients cannot see loved ones due to hospital visitor restrictions. Not being able to say goodbye or fully grieve the loss of someone can be traumatic.
  • History of depression or anxiety: People with a history of depression and anxiety diagnoses are at a higher risk for negative effects from isolation.
  • Seniors: Adults age 65 and over are at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, so many must take extra precautions to distance themselves from others. With a higher risk for depression and without in-person support from friends and family, seniors may be particularly isolated.

How to cope

Managing stress and change can be difficult, especially without the distractions of traditional social schedules. Individuals should prioritize self-care to feel their best and be able to think clearly.

Here are some self-care tips:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Connect with friends and family through phone calls, chats and video calls
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Establish and keep a routine
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Take breaks from the news and social media
  • Unwind with relaxing activities

Signs of distress

It’s important to recognize when coping mechanisms aren’t working. Anyone who experiences these signs of distress consistently or feels unable to carry out normal functions should ask for help:

  • Anger
  • Changes in appetite, energy or activity levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of numbness, anxiety or fear
  • Headaches, body pains, stomach problems or other physical reactions
  • Increased use of substances like tobacco, drugs or alcohol
  • Worsening of chronic health problems

Individuals should contact their health care provider to discuss mental health concerns and potential treatment options. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English and 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish.

About the author: Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more mental health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.

About the author: Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more mental health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.