A significant number of our fellow citizens are not alright. These are the people who, even after being vaccinated, continue to socially distance from their family, friends, and neighbors. They have various reasons for doing so—a child who is not vaccinated, or fear of a new variant—but, barring exceptional circumstances like a severely immunocompromised household member, those reasons are not good. An unvaccinated child has a lower risk of severe illness from Covid than a vaccinated adult, and vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness from the milder Omicron variant.
Continued isolation, however, has had devastating mental health consequences, particularly for parents and children. Fear of Covid has led parents to deprive their kids of a normal childhood. This recent tweet from a blue-check mom was liked over 10,000 times:
A mom shared in response that she was “losing it” because her family has stayed home for two years, stating that “[a]t some point I’d like my kid’s life to contain more than craft activities at our kitchen counter.” Irrational fear even led one mom—a teacher—to drive her sick son in the trunk of their car to avoid exposing herself to Covid. No surprise that schools are observing a surge of disciplinary problems and antisocial behavior.
A recent NPR segment offered tips from three mental health professionals “into handling the emotional challenges of this moment.” Those tips were:
- “[I]nstead of going outward in our adventures, perhaps to go inwards in our adventures. So slowing down, using movement, being creative in ways around our homes, thinking about pursuing inner explorations around meaning and insight into our own family history – I mean, those are ways that we can feel like there is something happening.”
- “One thing that I love to do is find books that have short passages because reading two pages and being done with a chapter feels like a task that we can complete…. And I feel very accomplished after reading, you know, three or four pages and being done with the chapter and, you know, by the end of the month completing a book.”
- “You know, just going to look out the window and find something that piques my interest. And it could be something really specific or something very abstract, like the way the slice of sky that I can see is hitting the edge of the roof of my neighbor’s house.”
Certainly, anyone experiencing mental health problems should use any strategy that works, and if going “inward” in your adventures, reading a 3-page chapter, or looking at your neighbor’s roof helps, that’s wonderful. But I am distressed that the first recommendation for individuals dealing with anxiety or depression due to continued isolation isn’t fixing the underlying problem: the lack of social connection.
Prolonged social distancing is not healthy. Humans are social creatures, and it is through our ties to our family, friends, and community that we find joy and give meaning to our lives. Public health authorities and the media, which for two years have been telling people what they shouldn’t do, need to start telling people what people should do. Cold winter weekend got your child down? It is OK to schedule that indoor playdate! Debating whether to travel to your best friend’s wedding? It is OK to be there for this important life event!
For many, if not most, Americans, this advice will be irrelevant: We already have been living more or less normal lives for some time now. But for the individuals who remain anxious, depressed, and isolated, this guidance could help them make the desperately-needed mental adjustment to living with a virus that is here to stay.