Social distancing has helped flatten the COVID-19 curve but it has had a devastating effect on our patients’ physical, mental and spiritual health. Nearly half of American adults are feeling socially isolated from family and friends and are struggling to maintain their health, according to a new survey by Harris Poll that we funded.
First, we need to be aware of the dangers of loneliness and social isolation and its prevalence with our patients. Social distancing has had a negative impact on mental health for nearly 2 in 5 adults. One of the things most adults (7 in 8) miss most is spending time with friends.
Social support, especially from family and friends, is essential to health and healing. The pandemic has suddenly and severely disrupted our ability to get the support we need.
Even before the pandemic, loneliness and social isolation in the U.S. were at epidemic levels.
A 2018 study by Cigna found that 47 percent of Americans often felt alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others, and 47 percent felt isolated from others.
The Samueli Social Distancing Consumer Survey also found that older adults 65+ are more likely to feel socially isolated due to the pandemic than young adults age 18-34 (60% vs. 43%). But young adults are more likely to report a negative impact on their physical health than older adults (37% vs. 19%). Young adults and females were most likely to report a lack of energy (30%), difficulty sleeping (29%) and exercising less (29%).
Secondly, we need to be part of the solution. Here’s what we as providers can do:
Talk about loneliness and social isolation
Screen for loneliness and social isolation
Use tele-medicine to connect with and care for patients
Use virtual group visits to connect with and care for patients
Now is the time to reach out of the office and into the homes of our patients virtually. Now is the time to help them connect, build resilience and address social and emotional issues. Now is the time to get to know our patients better by connecting and helping guide them back to healing.
Note: The survey was fielded online nationwide from May 5-7, 2020, and 2,051 adults age 18+ participated in the survey.