Lean on Me

Social connectedness is more important than ever during COVID-19.

Posted Jul 19, 2020

Guest author: Emma Newton

Emma Newton, used with permission
Source: Emma Newton, used with permission

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us have experienced different levels of uncertainty and changes in what we consider normal for our daily lives. The most impactful have been the various forms of quarantine measures and physical isolation that many of us have never encountered before.

Protective measures to diminish the spread of COVID-19 have included restrictions to assemble in large groups, cancellation of social and public events, lockdowns, closure of mass transit systems, closure of stores and restaurants, travel restrictions, and more. These measures have entirely adjusted what is familiar and comfortable about our daily lives by ruining mechanic routines that used to feel uncomplicated and straightforward. Not only has everyday routines been changed, but different isolation levels are also unfamiliar to us and unpleasant because it involves the separation from our friends and family.

Through family, friends, mentors, colleagues, and peers, social support is fundamental to our mental states. Our friends and family are the ones that support, love, and help us in good times and in bad. Humans are born with the immediate need for parental support. In the classic study by Harlow, for example, using isolation and lack of parental support with primates, he showed the importance of contact and comfort on their course of development. Without social connection, the monkeys in isolation exhibited atypical behavior such as walking in circles, staring blankly, and even harming themselves. The results from this study also show how we are social creatures, born with a reliance on others, not only for our physical health but also for mental health. 

Cuncon/Pixabay
Source: Cuncon/Pixabay

There is a great need and purpose for social support in an everyday setting and especially in an environment of an adverse situation such as the current pandemic. The quarantine and isolation measures threaten our sense of connectedness with others, which take a toll on our mental health. It is in these times of uncertainty that we need social support the most. The effects of self-isolation can include: "acute stress disorders, irritability, insomnia, emotional distress and mood disorders including depressive symptoms, fear and panic, anxiety and stress because of financial concerns, frustration and boredom, loneliness, lack of supplies and poor communication." 

Social support and connectedness are essential healing agents against the current pandemic. Studies evaluating the SARS outbreak that also used quarantine measures to slow the spread of the virus determined that a significant mitigating factor for psychological adversity was an increased sense of community connectedness. Another study that evaluated the mental health of New Zealanders assessed the bidirectional longitudinal relationship between social connectedness and mental health and demonstrated that social connectedness was a reliable and consistent predictor of mental health. 

Geralt/Pixabay
Source: Geralt/Pixabay

Social connectedness can help us improve our outlook in a challenging situation. Studies on resilience have shown that people who view negative situations as an opportunity to further their development and personal growth have improved mental health and immunity. During these socially distancing times, it is more critical than ever to reach out to others and foster social connections.

About the guest author: Emma Newton is a graduate from the  University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. She has interned in San Diego at the nonprofit formally known as Include Autism, now called Community ConNext, helping Behavioral Therapists complete one on one ABA, Applied Behavior Analysistherapy with children on the autism spectrum. Her passion to give back and connect with others in her community has always been a driving force behind her short and long term goals

References

Usher, K., Bhullar, N., & Jackson, D. (2020). Life in the pandemic: Social isolation and mental health. Journal of Clinical Nursing,29(15-16), 2756-2757. doi:10.1111/jocn.15290

Lau, A. L., Chi, I., Cummins, R. A., Lee, T. M., Chou, K., & Chung, L. W. (2008). The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic in Hong Kong: Effects on the subjective wellbeing of elderly and younger people. Aging & Mental Health,12(6), 746-760. doi:10.1080/13607860802380607

Saeri, A. K., Cruwys, T., Barlow, F. K., Stronge, S., & Sibley, C. G. (2017). Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry,52(4), 365-374. doi:10.1177/0004867417723990

Williams, K. L., & Galliher, R. V. (2006). Predicting Depression and Self–Esteem from Social Connectedness, Support, and Competence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,25(8), 855-874. doi:10.1521/jscp.2006.25.8.855

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It: Rapid Review of the Evidence. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3532534

Harlow's Classic Studies Revealed the Importance of Maternal Contact. (2018, June 20). Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/obsonline/harlows-classic-studies-revealed-the-importance-of-maternal-contact.html