Rutgers Expert Available to Discuss the Emotional Toll of Social Distancing

As people continue to self-isolate in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are at higher risk for the more negative aspects of emotional isolation, which for many can result in confusion, anger, sadness and in more extreme cases symptoms not unlike those seen in post-traumatic stress, said Frank A. Ghinassi, president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.

“Many of these symptoms, and their severity, are mediated by whether those who are quarantined are doing so voluntarily — “I don’t feel so well, and I really don’t want to make anyone else sick” — or because of a national, enforced emergency lock-down, by the extent and richness of their baseline social support network, and by their access to accurate and timely news, that is non-alarmist information,” Ghinassi said. “The endlessly repetitive information that often pervades the 24-hour news cycle can worsen stress.”

Other contributors to increased symptoms in the face of isolation are a lack of access to basic needs, including in-adequate housing, clothing, food and water, needed medical prescriptions and lack of an ability to stay connected via internet, social medial, phone, facetime and other technological connection tools. “For many, social isolation includes not being able to get to work, and as a result can mean financial loss and insecurity as an added stressor,” he said. “There is also stigma felt by those under quarantine. They feel like they are to blame and labeled as somebody who needs to be avoided.”

Since the degree to which social isolation can affect people often depends on their pre-existing social connectedness, people tend to be especially concerned about stay-at-home seniors who rely on others for daily needs or those who are live alone with little in the way of support networks, he noted.

Millennials who consider social media “followers” as “friends” often report feeling isolated without the daily interactions they have with people at work or in their community which is often the place where most face to face interaction occurs. “Many individuals in 2020 too often mistake Twitter and Instagram “counts” as a viable substitution for face to face, intimate friendships, and it really is several degrees of linkage away,” said Ghinassi who recommends people re-connect with family members or friends via phone or video chat during these stressful times.


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