COVID-19: Preliminary Data on the Impact of Social Distancing on Loneliness and Mental Health.
J Psychiatr Pract. 2020 09 ;26(5):400-404. PMID: 32936586
The COVID-19 pandemic and its need for social distancing as a response have the potential to increase the experience of loneliness in the population, with an associated increase in symptoms of mental disorders. As the world has largely adapted to remote platforms for employment, socializing, and health service delivery, the degree to which virtual opportunities for social engagement may offset the impact of limited in-person interactions on mental health functioning is unknown. This column offers preliminary data from an ongoing experience sampling study of the prevalence, course, and impact of loneliness on mental health in a community adult sample living under social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial findings aggregated across all experience sampling reports showed negative associations between virtual social contact (via text, phone, or videoconferencing) and feelings of loneliness, while in-person interactions appeared to have no impact on loneliness. In addition, respondents reported frequent instances of negative effects on physical and mental health, including disruptions in sleep and recurring suicidal ideation. While further analyses are needed, these findings are consistent with similar emerging reports showing increased rates of mental health concerns during periods of social distancing. Possible avenues for addressing these concerns using remote interventions are explored.