All the small things: what social isolation is doing to our mental health

Being in lockdown has clearly affected our mental health. A study of around 600 people carried out in the UK in the two weeks since March 23 found that over a quarter of them were being treated for mental health issues, and that these issues were worse among those who had been self-isolating before the lockdown.

Analysing the study, Dr Liji Thomas suggested a few reasons for these results, and one was a lack of social interaction or contact. “The association of depression and anxiety with isolation and poor social support emphasizes the need for newer ways of keeping people connected and supported during times of poor social contact”, she wrote.

Many people have said that being in lockdown has made them appreciate the small things even more – things like seeing friends and family in person, physical touch, and being able to go outside more freely.

These are things that bring us joy, and when they are taken away, the converse can happen – we can begin to struggle.

Saj Devshi is one person who has been feeling the effects of lockdown and less interaction with others. “Being locked at home constantly has been testing mentally as you feel so confined,” he told me.

“I’m worried about what this means for the world going forward and how we’re supposed to adapt to a world where interaction has now become more limited with one another. I think we might lose that intimacy and human connection as we try to encourage distancing even as this virus dwindles down.”

Cheltenham-based counsellor Debbie Fitchsampson is adamant that being in lockdown and having to go without social contact has been hard for people of all ages.

“I think it’s a really difficult time for people; young people are missing out on so much, and the older generation are really missing out on seeing people”, she told me. “I think it’s getting people down and not knowing when it’s going to come to an end makes it worse ‒ anxiety is about not knowing things or having certainty”.

When it comes to dealing with these things, Debbie recommends focusing on the present and taking things one day at a time.

“Try not to look too far ahead; think about the day-to-day – ‘What am I going to do today?’” she said. “And do things that keep you in contact with people. Try not to think, how many weeks will it be before I can see them again”.

Age Scotland has published 10 tips for staying in touch and combatting loneliness during lockdown; read them here.

If you are struggling, you can contact the NHS’s Let’s Talk service on 0800 073 2200 or Mind on 0300 123 3393. Remember, it’s okay not to be okay.

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