Social Isolation Concerns Amid COVID-19

The psychological effects of a pandemic are widespread. From the expected anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of not knowing how long the pandemic will last, or how damaging it will be, to the challenges of coping with social, vocational, and economic shifts, people’s lives have broadly been affected. Adding to this, social isolation removes the typical psychological resources that we expect during times of crisis and can lead to physical challenges which, of course, influence psychological functioning.

Social isolation removes the typical psychological resources that we expect during times of crisis, so be sure to check in on loved ones.

Humans, like all mammals, are meant to be social. Removing this fundamental component of life, not surprisingly, leads to many debilitating effects on mental health. In humans, it is often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression – two outcomes that can be argued are related to an overly reactive alert system, feelings of lack of safety, and ultimately, adrenal exhaustion.

The Lancet published a review in February 2020 of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine, offering a glimpse into what has been brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world.

The review found that people who are quarantined are highly likely to develop a wide range of psychological symptoms, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stood out as being “very common.”

In cases where parents were quarantined with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28% of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder.”

Among quarantined hospital staff, having been quarantined was the factor most predictive of symptoms of acute stress disorder and “quarantined staff were significantly more likely to report exhaustion, detachment from others, anxiety when dealing with febrile patients, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and indecisiveness, deteriorating work performance, and reluctance to work or consideration of resignation.” It is also noteworthy that “health-care workers who had been quarantined had more severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress than members of the general public who had been quarantined, scoring significantly higher on all dimensions.”

It is this lack of interpersonal connection that should be considered as a mortality risk factor, much like physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, and lack of healthcare access. Research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association found that loneliness and social isolation may now represent a greater public health hazard than obesity.

With the increase in social isolation and loneliness during this time, it’s more important than ever to check in our friends and loved ones, however we can – a quick phone call, video chat, dropping off food, etc. We need to look out for one another. 🙂

Course excerpt from:

COVID-19: Picking Up the Pieces is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines the effects of the pandemic and the challenges we face moving forward.

This course will discuss the many aspects of COVID-19 that have affected us all, physically, psychologically, and economically. It will begin with a discussion of what pandemics are, and what differentiates COVID-19 from previous pandemics. We will then turn our attention to the psychological effects of a pandemic – from anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, economic and vocational challenges, to social isolation and the physical challenges that further compromise psychological adjustment. We will then look at the effects of starting over – from re-entry and reorganization to chronic anxiety, triggering, and even the stigma of being infected by or exposed to the virus.

Next, we will explore the ways in which the clinician can help the client. We will learn how shifting the client’s attitude toward adversity, introducing them to post-traumatic growth, and encouraging insight and reflection can promote psychological growth, even in times of psychological distress. The last section of this course consists of specific exercises the clinician can use with the client coping with COVID-19. Course #21-42 | 2020 | 39 pages | 15 posttest questions

Click here to learn more.


Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Professional Development Resources maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Professional Development Resources is also approved by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Georgia State Board of Occupational Therapy; the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Enjoy 20% off all online continuing education (CE/CEU) courses @pdresources.orgClick here for details.

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The Psychological Effects of Social Isolation

Increased aggressiveness towards unfamiliar others, persistent fear, and hypersensitivity to threatening stimuli. These are some of the effects of social isolation described in a study done by Moriel Zelikowsky and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology (Zelikowsky et al., 2018).

Social Isolation

In another meta-analysis done at University of Surrey and Brunel University London, researchers found that social isolation could be linked to increased inflammation in the body (Smith et al., 2020).

As Kimberley Smith, a lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, explains, “Loneliness and social isolation have been shown to increase our risk of poorer health. Many researchers propose that part of the reason for this is because they influence the body’s inflammatory response.”

Another study found that social isolation is linked to increased risk of mortality (Alcaraz et al., 2018).

Social isolation, while it might have been something we spoke about rather infrequently in the past, now seems like it is a new normal. It is necessary. We need to do everything we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

But just how this affects us mentally and physically is another matter altogether. While it is important to stop the spread of the coronavirus, social isolation is not good for our health – mentally or physically. And even before quarantine orders were put in place, social isolation was a growing problem. In the United States, for example, about half of people older than 85 live alone, and decreased mobility or ability to drive may cut opportunities for other socialization (Brown et al., 2017).

Social Isolation is a “Silent Killer”

Moreover, during a U.S. Senate hearing on aging issues in the spring of 2018, a representative for the Gerontological Society of America urged lawmakers to support programs that help older adults stay connected to their communities, stating that social isolation is a “silent killer that places people at higher risk for a variety of poor health outcomes.”

Now, more than ever, the effects of social isolation will be felt, and more so by those already at risk, as the coronavirus is much more deadly to the elderly population.

There is hope, however. In a study that appeared in the American Journal of Epidemiology, in 2018, the authors concluded that most detrimental were “the lack of interpersonal connections.” When people were able to develop and maintain more interpersonal connections – remotely or otherwise – the effects of social isolation were not nearly as powerful (Alcaraz et al., 2018).

So where does this leave us? Now, more than ever, is the time to pick up the phone, send an email, text, or message, reach out, and stay connected. Your brain and body will thank you.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Managing Anger & Aggressive Behavior is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that provides strategies for dealing with anger and aggression in clinical practice. Click here to learn more.

Psychological Effects of Media Exposure is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that explores the psychological effects that media exposure has on both the witnesses and victims of traumatic events. Click here to learn more.

Psychological Effects of Ostracism is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that explores the effects of ostracism and social exclusion in both children and adults – in the real world, and online. Click here to learn more.

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Georgia State Board of Occupational Therapy; the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Professional Development Resources maintains responsibility for this program and its content.

PDR offers over 150 accredited online CE courses for healthcare professionals. 

Target AudiencePsychologistsSchool PsychologistsCounselorsSocial WorkersMarriage & Family Therapists (MFTs)Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)Occupational Therapists (OTs)Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), and Teachers

Enjoy 20% off all online continuing education (CE/CEU) courses @pdresources.orgClick here for details.

Earn CE Wherever YOU Love to Be!