Social Distancing and Mental Health

By: Erin Rose Hennessy

By now, everyone is stocking up on all the essentials (if they are able to), making plans to work from home (if their job allows), and practicing social distancing at home with their families because of the novel coronavirus  (COVID-19).

There are many scary unknowns about this new virus, but one of the things it seems to do is affect the elderly and immune suppressed much more severely. Having family members that fit both these categories, I understand the need for social distancing. I work with small children. I can’t work from home and I don’t want to risk them getting the virus.

The problem is compounded by some members of our planet refusing to take this virus seriously. I have heard “but it’s just a cold” from way too many people for comfort. Here’s the thing. For roughly 80% of the population,  it is a fairly mild respiratory illness. They cough, they have a fever, aches, and feel short of breath. But for 20% of the infected people, they become severely and critically ill. Who takes care of these people? Who visits these people?  Who lives with these people? That’s right, the other 80%. That’s why my hands are raw from the excessive but necessary hand washing, that’s why people need to stay home if they are sick, and why we need to practice social distancing.

They say introverts are made for social distancing. We already do some form of it. This is true, it is probably easier for introverts to find things to do around the house and easier to cope without going to the bar, restaurant, sports stadium, and other extremely social events.

The problem that greatly concerns me about social distancing is the greater risk for mental health crisis. Especially with people already struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and those who live alone. Pets are helpful but they don’t count as social contact. Telling people to stay home and don’t go anywhere during a pandemic could start feeling like a prison sentence, being cut off from family members and friends for an extended period of time.

So, make sure you take care of yourselves. Make mental health check-ins a priority. Get enough healthy food, sleep, go for walks, and do yoga. Find joy in hobbies, reach out to friends and family by text or FaceTime. Some may find it helpful to establish a routine around the house. Check in on others, especially those you know live alone or may be struggling. We’re all in this together and we all need to band together to make sure we all survive this pandemic the best we can.

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