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Opinions Mon, 6 Apr 2020

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Social distancing does not mean social isolation

Social distancing or physical distancing is defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as allowing a physical distance of about 6 feet between one another.

The objective of social distancing is to reduce the probability of contact between persons carrying an infection, and others who are not infected, so as to minimize disease transmission, indisposition and ultimately mortality.

As Dr. Stephen DeWitt, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s Emergency Department medical director, wrote in a Monday email. “When a person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets of an infected person can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or can possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Social distancing is most effective for the prevention of infections that can be transmitted via droplet contact (coughing or sneezing); direct physical contact, including sexual contact; indirect physical contact (e.g. by touching a contaminated surface); or airborne transmission (if the microorganism can survive in the air for long period)

Social isolation according to Wikipedia, is a state of complete or near- complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects temporary and involuntary lack of contact with other humans in the world. Social isolation can be an issue for individuals of any age, though symptoms may differ by age group.

All types of social isolation can include staying at home for lengthy periods of time, having no communication with family, acquaintances or friends, and /or willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise.

According to Noelle Fields and Ling Xu, assistant professors in the school of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington, social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic place older adults at higher risk of physical and mental ailments. Not forgetting, social distancing may impact all of us, the negative effect may be greater for older adults who are already at risk for social isolation. Fields said, some social science fields are calling for ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’.

The point is that we can all remain connected to one another socially, using available technologies such as phone calls, video conferencing and other social media platforms like Facebook, instagram, twitter etc. These platforms are there to create a form relaxation while at home and observing directives from the government.

There is a strong evidence that for older adults, social isolation and loneliness negatively affect mortality and are associated with higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani (a health science professor at Ball State University) said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies — with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today — social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has started using phrases like “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from person to person, a move widely welcomed by experts as a step in the right direction.

At the daily news briefing on March 20, 2020 officials of the global health body said while maintaining a physical distance was “absolutely essential” amid the global pandemic, “it does not mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, families and friends.

The rapid spread of the virus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December, has forced countries around the world to impose full lockdowns, shut down airports and impose tight restrictions on the movement of their citizens.

According to Maria Van Kerkhove an Epidemiologist on March 20, Technology has advanced so greatly that we can keep connected in many ways without actually physically being in the same room or physically being in the same space with people.

It is important to maintain safe distance in other to decrease transmission But we have to stay connected at all times.

Professor Jeremy Freese at Stanford University in United States told Al Jazeera on March 30, 2020, that social distancing makes it sound like people should stop communicating with one another while instead we should be preserving as much community as we can even while we keep our physical distance from one another.

We need to practice physical distancing to protect everyone’s physical wellbeing, but mental wellbeing is obviously also important and social isolation is not good for mental wellbeing.

Martin W Bauer, professor of social psychology and research methodology at London School of Economics, welcomed WHO's change in terminology, saying it was "long overdue".

"Physical distance” is measured in metric metres or centimetres. It is the geographical distance from person A to person B while 'social distance' is a measure of distance across social boundaries," he explained.

Bauer said it was important WHO differentiated between the two terms.

Social distancing comes with psychological fallout. Experts has warned that prolonged isolation during the pandemic may worsen or trigger mental health problems.

We don’t want to spend a lot of cash looking for cure or how to curb this pandemic whiles we risk the psychological health of individuals.

People need to understand the health implication of just being in the house and not doing anything.

Physical distancing is good but let’s educate people on how to balance with the available technologies to meet their emotional needs.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, social isolation and mental health problems that may arise from long term social distancing during the corona virus pandemic.

As strict measures are taken to keep people apart in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, mental health experts are warning that losing everyday social connections comes with psychological costs. And those costs could go up extremely.

But for some people, lack of social connectedness feels as though the regular lifestyle of people may go into extinction.

Social connectedness

This plays an important role in older adult’s wellbeing (Ashida & Heaney, 2008; Gardner, 2011; Haslam et al 2008) and positive effect on physical and mental health (Cornwell, Laumann and Schumm 2008). Social connectedness is of such relevance to humans that it is believed to have been a central element of human evolution, as natural selection would favor individuals capable of making positive social contact; group affiliation would provide more care, food and protection. Evolution may thus also have fostered a need to belong that continues to be relevant in contemporary society, where social relationships offer attachment, expressed in security and commitment, social integration, opportunity for nurturance, reassurance of worth, reliable alliance and guidance (Heinrich and Gullone, 2006)

Human life is predicted on social interaction and the maintenance of a variety of interpersonal relationships. Peoples effort to affiliate and to be accepted underlie a great deal of their behavior and failures to be relationally valued and to foster desired relationships have a strong impact on people’s emotions, self-views, social behavior, psychological well-being and physical health.

In contrast to this principles of social connectedness, even minor experiences of rejection can affect perceptions of meaning negatively (Zadro et al. 2004). An “ultimate primary motivational principle in man” (Mijuskovic, 1988) is thus to avoid rejection and to increase closeness. Where such endeavors fail, psychological and physical well-being and health will be affected, often resulting in feelings of loneliness. Loneliness leads to depression (Nolen-Hoeksema and Ahrens, 2002) and is linked to dementia, Alzheimer disease, high blood pressure, alcoholism, paranoia and anxiety and can lead to suicide (Fratiglioni et al., 2010; Stravynski and Boyer, 2001; West et al., 1986; Wilson et al., 2007).

According to Dr. Emma Seppala, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and the author of The Happiness Track (HarperOne, 2016) social connection improves physical, mental and emotional well-being.

We all think we know how to take good care of ourselves: eat your veggies, work out and try to get enough sleep. But how many of us know that social connection is just as critical? According to Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford Medicine, lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

On the other hand, strong social connection:

• Leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity

• Strengthens your immune system(research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation)

• Helps you recover from disease faster

• May even lengthen your life

• Lower levels of anxiety and depression

• High self-esteem, greater empathy for others, more trusting and cooperative

Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well- being.

Humans are social creatures, and social connections are a fundamental aspect of healthy living. Social connection is very important for older adults because it is one of the key factors related to healthy aging.

However, as people age, illness, physical limitations, mobility challenges, changes in living arrangement, inactivity and the death of spouses or beloved friends often become emotionally and socially challenging for older adults and largely affect their social connectedness.

Compared to older adults without social support, individuals who have close connections and relationships in later life are not only more likely to have better physical, mental, and cognitive health, but may also live longer and cope better with their health conditions ( Noelle Fields and Ling Xu)

Social engagement technologies include established forms of electronic communication such as email and social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, instagram, etc.)

"In these strange times, we need to maintain physical distance (minimum two metres), but at the same time, we need people to remain close to each other 'socially'."

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail eric.domie78@gmail.com or call Eric Worlali Domie - 0200873367

References

• S.K. Brooks et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet. Vol. 395, March 14, 2020, p. 912.

• National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: opportunities for the healthcare system. Published online February 2020.

• J. Holt-Lunstad et al. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science. Vol. 10, March 2015, p. 227.

• https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/social-connectedness

Columnist: Eric Worlali Domie

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