Social isolation effects – coronavirus statistics
As we continue to live with coronavirus, it can be hard for all of us to see any end to the need for social isolation and the isolation that can come with it.
We have been following public health advice to reduce the risk of exposure by staying at home, knowing that an infection could be life-threatening. But sheltering at home has also meant time away from friends, family, and social interaction.
Key data – social isolation effects during coronavirus
While loneliness and social isolation existed in the population before coronavirus, social distances measures have exacerbated already a serious problem:
- For the 28% of Americans who live alone, this means little human contact for months (source).
Preliminary surveys suggest that within the first month of Covid-19:
Who has been most impacted by social isolation during Coronavirus?
The groups most impacted include older adults, people of color, those with low income, and those in congregate living centers (nursing homes & prisons)
What are the immediate effects of social isolation related to the pandemic?
- The surge in mental health concerns, substance abuse, and domestic violence (source).
- 2 million Americans purchased a gun in march 2019 (the second-highest monthly total in decades since records have been kept) which has raised concerns for increased risk of suicide (source).
What was loneliness like before coronavirus?
Studies on loneliness in the general population showed (pre coronavirus) indicate that most people, most of the time, do not feel lonely.
- Up to 80% of those under 18 years of age and 40% of those over 65 years of age report being lonely at least sometimes (source)
- 15–30% of the general population suffer from chronic loneliness (source).
Before the start of the pandemic, there were many national studies for older adults that showed:
- 25% of older American were socially isolated
- 1 out of 3 middle-aged older adults experienced loneliness
Virtual connections during covid & loneliness
It isn’t clear to what extent our digital world helps make up for in-person contact or whether our biological needs for human connection can be satisfied through these tools.
There is some evidence that digital connection makes us feel more lonely:
- The loneliness paradox that says even though technology and social media make us more socially connected it actually increases loneliness.
The pandemic has also heightened the limitations of video conferencing tools. According to a survey:
- Virtual social gathering failed to reduce loneliness among 48% and actually increased loneliness among 10% of respondents.
How does loneliness during covid-19 impact the economy?
Social isolation and loneliness can also impact our economic recovery. A recent AARP study found that:
- Social isolation among older adults is associated with 6.7 billion in annual Medicare spending.
- Loneliness has been linked to greater workplace absenteeism, lower productivity, and lower quality of work.
Health risks & dangers of social isolation
What are the health effects of loneliness and isolation? Data from the 2020 study ‘Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults’ proves that when older adults are isolated their mental and physical health also declines.
|Health risk factor||Increased risk rate for isolated adults|
|Coronary heart disease||29%|
It has also been shown that few social connections and feeling isolated is associated with health conditions such as:
- Isolation is associated with the development of chronic diseases (source).
- Isolation is associated with the development of psychiatric disorders (source).
- Social isolation is a risk factor for premature death (source).
- Social isolation is similar to risk factors such as cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, or obesity (source).
What is the connection between social isolation and anxiety?
Social isolation leads to distress because:
- We are a social species and our biology signals a need to connect socially (source).
- When we lack proximity to others our brain and body may respond with a state of heightened alert (source).
- This can result in increased blood pressure, stress hormones, and inflammatory responses.
Elderly & senior social Isolation
Social distancing during the pandemic was never meant to stop social connections, but many family members and friends of the elderly are staying away to avoid exposure to their loved ones.
Without frequent and meaningful social interactions studies have shown that:
- There is a risk of older adults experiencing a decline in cognitive functioning (source).
- Older adults are susceptible to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (source).
Staying at home also makes it difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle which includes physical activity and eating well.
- Inactivity can lead to weight gain and other health problems such as declining heart and lung capacity (source).
Tips for preventing negative effects of loneliness and social isolation
There are some ways we can maintain feelings of being connected to others despite the social distancing. We can organize our activities each day and become more resistant to feelings of loneliness. Here are some tips for adults from the NCBI:
- Spend more time with your family.
- Maintain social connections with technology.
Maintain basic needs and healthy activities.
- Ensure basic needs are met.
- Structure every single day.
- Maintain physical and mental activities.
Manage emotions and psychiatric symptoms.
- Manage cognition, emotion, and mood.
- Pay attention to psychiatric symptoms.
- Take special care of older people with dementia and their family carers.