COVID-19 has an isolating and fragmenting effect on the community, due to the infectious nature of the virus.
This will inevitably impact on our psychological health as we normally depend on our social associations to derive some benefits. Our closest link is usually our family, which provides us not just sense of identity but also security. Our colleagues at our work place generally engender a sense of camaraderie and also competence defined by our jobs. The community as a larger association gives us a sense of belonging. These links and bonds though unspoken and sometimes unaware, are held alive in our daily interactions. When these are suspended in the wake of an outbreak, individuals may be left with a sense of “loneliness”. Depending on the unique situation, it could be a loss of the sense of security, identity, competence and camaraderie or even belonging. A foreign worker stranded in a foreign land for example will experience a bigger impact being removed from family and the usual community. If he is taken ill, then he is removed even from his work buddies. A healthcare worker shunned by the community may feel a sense of loss and has to rely on his own family for support. However, he may choose to self-isolate for fear of introducing infection to his loved ones back home, in which case his closest association would be his colleagues at the frontline. For majority of people working from home, they may feel the queer sense of being alienated from the larger community.
In this age of communication technology, people can still come together, virtually, and receive enough strokes! It is therefore helpful to devote some time to connect with friends, colleagues and even people in the community.
Another important psychological need also contributes to the sense of loss and isolation: the lack of psychological “strokes”. A stroke is defined as an unit of acknowledgement. Research has borne up the fact that having such acknowledgment is not only healthy but essential. An infant left unacknowledged would soon fail to thrive, even with sufficient nutrients. Simple strokes include the mutual acknowledgment at the lift lobby with our neighbours. Of course there are social strokes at work place such as when one is openly praised by a superior! A negative comment may yet be a stroke since the individual is being acknowledged, albeit negatively. In isolation, these strokes would be less available, and the degree depends on the severity of the social distancing measures.
Thankfully in this age of communication technology, people can still come together, virtually, and receive enough strokes! It is therefore helpful to devote some time to connect with friends, colleagues and even people in the community. A friendly smile or nod is from a distance can achieve much!
The contributor is a Senior Consultant at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital.