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The psychological impacts of isolation

Isolation can affect your mental health.

At the end of March, Australia urged people to stay at home in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. The lives of millions of people across the country were instantly altered. And while staying at home can help flatten the curve, it can also have major impacts on an individual’s mental health.

Psychologist, Couple and Family Therapist Jacqueline McDiarmid says there are many negative impacts of self-isolation, including losing social skills, and becoming anxious at the idea of communicating with a person face-to-face.

“Another is that we feel lonely and disconnected from others which actually impacts our mental health, if someone is prone to depression for example, they could potentially become depressed or more depressed as a result of isolation,” she told upstart.

“There is also a risk of people struggling with mental health because they are out of their normal routines including showering, dressing and ‘being in the world’. These routines actually keep people mentally well.”

A 2020 research article conducted by Rapid Review compared several studies of individuals who have self-isolated in the past. Most of them showed a high prevalence of symptoms of psychological distress, including depression, stress, low mood, emotional disturbance, irritability and insomnia.

Many surveyed individuals also reported feelings of anger, fear and nervousness during their quarantine period, while a few described positive feelings such as relief and happiness. When it came to long-term effects, reports showed alcohol abuse and avoidance behaviours were also associated with having been quarantined.

McDiarmid believes many will struggle with depression and anxiety due to job loss and constant health concerns.

“There will be a lot of people who struggle with loss of identity and self-worth because of the loss of their business or career. The world as we know it will change forever for many of us and this will affect a great number of people mentally,” she said.

Among the people who have seen their day-to-day lives change through self-isolation, students are experiencing a dramatic change to their face-to-face studies.

Monash student Helen Dosky shares her experience with moving to online learning and says her quarantine has been “quite lonesome” so far.

“School has been transformed into online classes, which do not, in my opinion, provide the same levels of social gratification as face to face classes do. Learning has become self-done and self-motivated, and it is becoming increasingly tougher to remain motivated in an unsure and unprecedented world such as the one we’re faced with today,” she told upstart.

“It’s hard to enjoy day-to-day activities that were created with the intention of going outside and being free, to ones with little to no social interactions.”

As students went from fast-paced and loud social environments to quiet online studying, getting back to their normal schedule after lockdown will be difficult for most.

“It will be challenging to convert back to the previous rhythm, as I become more and more attuned with self-isolation. I feel as though the world has experienced an inarguable change that may amend the way we practice our day-to-day activities,” Dosky said.

Although the coronavirus quarantine may not be as extreme as other self-isolation circumstances, many people will feel the pressure of these social distancing measures. But there are ways to improve your mental health and avoid psychological distress.

McDiarmid recommends staying connected online while avoiding too much media, which can cause negative feelings.

“Follow usual routines, get up at a usual time, go to bed at the usual time.  Make sure you are dressed for the day. If you are unable to follow usual routines, make a new one. Put things in your day that you look forward to that connects you with the outside world,” she said.

“Stay positive, this COVID-19 situation will end. If you are struggling with this then I suggest counselling online to help you challenge these thoughts. Connect with a Counsellor who is offering online video conferencing sessions.”


If you are feeling stressed and need support during these difficult times, you can contact the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service online or by calling 1800 512 348.


Article: Amaal Mohamud is a second-year Media and Communications student (Media Industries) at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @amaalmvh

Photo: By Nik Shuliahin available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.

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