Last week, a client said “I have been so lonely during this pandemic. The isolation and stay-at-home orders have made me feel so alone.” I can feel the loneliness she was talking about, and even more, I can understand it because I have felt it too. I believe we all have; it is universal to all who have been going through the covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, when the pandemic started, I was thinking about what types of mental health threats would be involved in a pandemic. Besides anxiety, phobia, bereavement and death were all on the list. When the pandemic hit hard, I realized that loneliness was actually a big risk as well.
When we think about loneliness, it could be concrete (“do I have friends”), existential (“do I mean anything to anyone”), or societal (“do I belong to a group?). COVID-19 raised another type of loneliness where mental isolation is involved, even with those close to you. Some couples have conflicts about how strictly they should interact with others—whether it is appropriate to go out dining or invite friends onto a patio—leading to discrepancies in their values and beliefs. Some couples spend more time together in a limited space that they begin to fight more, leading to emotional disconnection from each other. There are times when differences in opinions about the pandemic have driven close friends apart, leaving people feeling like they’ve lost a friend or a relationship.
Despite loneliness being such a big mental health threat now more than before, I also see that there is something different about loneliness during COVID-19. I believe that this loneliness has the potential to be unifying. As loneliness is a universal experience of COVID-19, everyone can understand what feeling isolated and disconnected is like. No one is alone in feeling lonely, and we are all connected in this way. Also, even though opportunities to meet new people and attend events have diminished, we get the chance to strengthen old relationships or even revisit lost friendships by reaching out and checking-in about how their lives have been impacted by COVID.
I believe that a lot of people are feeling the same loneliness as that client from last week had described. I hope that one good thing that can come out of this pandemic is allowing people to think about social interactions they are and are not having, and how to maintain it. I also hope that it will remind us of how connected we are, even when we are feeling alone.