Covid-19 has affected our lives in more ways than we ever could have imagined. When coronavirus first came about, it is safe to say we all greatly underestimated the impact it would have on virtually every sector of daily life: employment, education, transportation, and recreation.
Self-Isolation and Covid-19
The Center for Disease Control states that the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus, which, in other words just means to stay home. Although it is obviously important to follow the CDC guidelines during a time like this, it is also important to recognize the impacts these guidelines are having on our mental health.
Social isolation has always been one of the main risk factors for suicide. However, today we are in a difficult position having to grapple with voluntary self-isolation. Though most Americans understood the benefits of social distancing and chose to stay home to prevent the further spread of Covid-19, it did not mean that they were enjoying this time.
Individuals’ worlds have been turned upside down. They were not going into work, attending classes in person, seeing their elderly family members, or going out with friends. In addition to the economic and financial impact this has had on people, there was an increasing level of depression and anxiety across America due to concerns over the pandemic and the effects of isolation. Reducing social contact may have been the best solution in regards to the virus, but it led to some of the worst outcomes for mental health.
Knowing that depression is the number one contributor to suicide, the increase in depression rates, largely caused by self-isolation, is undoubtedly concerning.
Depression and anxiety are illnesses that tend to be caused by factors such as uncertainty, stress, loss, and isolation- all of which have become more prevalent since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, we need to recognize the warning signs for suicide and understand why these feelings may come about due to the current situation.
Nearly every person has sacrificed at least some level of social connectedness due to the pandemic. While this may not have extreme or adverse effects on everyone, social connection can mean everything to certain types of people.
On top of the loss of social connections with work, school, family, and friends- during self-isolation, people can end up spending their time over-thinking, which in turn leads to ruminating thoughts and exacerbated worries. Though this is not productive or helpful, it is far from abnormal, especially when people feel that they are losing some sense of belonging.
It has been proven that strong relationships are a protective factor for suicide, highlighting the benefits that social connection can serve in people’s lives.
In addition, isolation can have a multitude of consequences on both physical and mental health, including but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, poorer sleep, and weight loss or gain. These consequences are also all seen as risk factors for suicide.
The connection between the effects of isolation, and the risk factors for suicide, exhibit why self-isolation increases suicide risk.
In addition to the risk factors for suicide, there are a number of warning signs listed by the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to look out for in regards to suicide risk:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
It may seem extreme to denote self-isolation as a cause for suicide but is critical that we understand the severity of effects caused by the loss of connection. Even in April, at the beginning of the Covid-19 catastrophe, the Washington Post reported that nearly half of Americans felt that the coronavirus crisis was harming their mental health. It is clear that we need to find ways to stay connected during self-isolation and utilize whatever resources are available to try and avoid the consequences of isolation.
Ways to Stay Connected During Self Isolation:
- Gather with friends in an outdoor space six feet apart
- Go on walks in new neighborhoods and explore areas you’ve never seen before
- Attend virtual events (concerts, museum tours, free online classes, cooking courses, religious services)
- Learn a new skill or take up a hobby with a friend
- Sign up for an online workout program with a buddy
- Reach out to old friends or family members you haven’t talked to for some time
- Download Netflix Party to watch TV shows and movies with your friends online
So, where does this leave us?
Although thanks to technology, there are many ways to stay virtually connected to friends and family during self-isolation, it would be unfair to say it’s the same type of connection. Everyone is experiencing the disappointments and sadness from missing out on the social events and gatherings that we all once took for granted…even going to school and work!
We are all working with and adjusting to the situation that we have been put in, the best that we can. However, if it begins to feel like the effects of self-isolation are becoming unbearable- know that it is normal, you are not alone, but most importantly you need to seek help.
According to the CDC, depression affects 20-25% of Americans in a given year.
With the additional risk factors set off by the effects of Covid-19 and self-isolation, this number could easily rise.
Self-isolation is a painful experience. Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 24 hours
- English and Spanish
- Chat line as well
[Related: Suicide Among Students Prevention Guide]