New study says loneliness is a real factor during COVID-19 restrictions
Loneliness is a significant public health issue and is associated with worse physical and mental health as well as increased mortality risk. Systematic review findings recommend that interventions addressing loneliness should focus on individuals who are socially isolated. However, researchers have lacked a comprehensive understanding of how vulnerability to loneliness might be different in the context of a pandemic.
In the new study, researchers used an online survey to collect data about adults during the initial phase of COVID-19 lockdown from March 23 to April 24, 2020. 1,964 eligible participants responded to the survey, answering questions about loneliness, sociodemographic factors, health, and their status in relation to COVID-19. Participants were aged 18 to 87 years old (average 37.11), were mostly white (92.7%), female (70.4%), not religious (57.5%) and the majority were employed (71.9%).
The overall prevalence of loneliness, defined as having a high score on the loneliness scale (ie., a score of 7 or higher out of 9), was over a quarter of respondents: 26.6%. In the week prior to completing the survey, 49% to 70% of respondents reported feeling isolated, left out or lacking companionship. Risk factors for loneliness were being in a younger age group (aOR: 4.67 -- 5.31), being separated or divorced (OR: 2.29), meeting clinical criteria for depression (OR: 1.74), greater emotion regulation difficulties (OR: 1.04), and poor-quality sleep due to the COVID-19 crisis (OR: 1.30). Higher levels of social support (OR: 0.92), being married/co-habiting (OR: 0.35) and living with a greater number of adults (OR: 0.87) were protective factors.
The authors hope that these findings can inform support strategies and help to target those most vulnerable to loneliness during the pandemic.
Groarke adds: "We found that rates of loneliness during the early stages of the lockdown were high. Our results suggest that supports and interventions to reduce loneliness should prioritize young people, those with mental health symptoms, and people who are socially isolated. Supports aimed at improving emotion regulation, sleep quality and increasing social support could reduce the impact of physical distancing regulations on mental health outcomes."
Healthcare institutes all over the country say the coronavirus pandemic can be extremely stressful for people. Fear and anxiety generated by the idea of a communicable disease and worry over what might happen can become overwhelming and stimulate strong emotions in both adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing certainly helps keep everyone safer but, social distancing can leave people feeling even more isolated and lonely. Teletherapy is proving to have some surprising benefits for people who are isolated, and for people who have social anxiety.
“It can be quite relieving for a person with anxiety to not have to be face-to-face for a therapy session. In fact, teletherapy actually empowers my patients who might experience anxiety, because it creates a sense of ‘safe distance’ from the therapist. This alone, often makes it easier for them to open up and to feel comfortable with the therapy modality.”
Dr. Holland specializes in working with individuals with depression and/or anxiety, those who have experienced trauma, chronic illnesses or conditions associated with aging as well as identity issues.
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Contact Dr. Holland for more information and for help, or call 707-479-2946 to schedule a telehealth video therapy session.