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Coronavirus –The Psychological Impact Of Isolation And The Impact on Human Rights

Coronavirus –The Psychological Impact Of Isolation And The Impact on Human Rights

Human Behavior Expert, Patrick Wanis, PhD, answers questions on the impact that forced social isolation during the Coronavirus Pandemic will have, and, the impact on human rights as a result of new Government powers and actions.

What are some of the psychological problems that the pandemic and isolation can cause?

The list is extensive because you could potentially be experiencing loneliness, sadness, fear, anxiety, panic, depression, phobias, obsessiveness, obsessive compulsive disorder, rumination, hysteria, delusions, or delusion infestation (delusional infestation is if you believe you’ve got the illness, but you don’t go to a doctor), psychotic disorders, and a general worsening of any mental illness that someone already has.

We are also seeing behavioral problems such as racism against Asians; many people are suspicious of or don’t trust the media or they don’t trust the politicians, or they don’t trust the medical community and that also creates more anxiety, fear and insecurity. It can also encourage people to want to rebel against the guidelines of how to stay safe.

What advice can you give?

If you have an existing mental health issue, make sure you’re in touch with your doctor or mental health professional. If people are on medication, they’ve got to make sure that they’re consulting with their doctor or psychiatrist and that they don’t stop taking the medication without consulting their doctor.

The best approach that anyone and everyone can take during this crisis is to get very clear about what you can and cannot control. When we try to control things we can’t, we experience more anxiety. When we feel that our world is out of control and we’re trying to control it, we experience more anxiety. If you are willing to accept the things that you can’t control, then you will have less stress, less fear, less anxiety. Put all of your focus and all of your energy on the things you can control and let go of the rest.

How many days of compulsory home-stay or isolation does it take before people begin to experience psychological problems?

The way that a person will respond to being alone is going to vary from person to person. There’s isn’t a mathematical formula that says after three days you will go crazy or you will have anxiety, or fear. It depends on the individual. We have more people living alone than ever before in today’s Western world. For some people that creates intense anxiety, loneliness and mental health issues, while others have adjusted and they’re okay. Thus, it really depends on the individual as to how much daily interaction a person needs. We are hardwired to connect and create meaningful relationships and community.

Temperament will also play a role on who is affected the fastest by social isolation. An extrovert needs to connect with people more than an introvert does. Of course, we all need to connect with other people, but I think it’s worse for extroverts, and also worse for elderly people because they generally don’t have a large social circle and people become lonelier as they get older. And we know that social isolation leads to cardio vascular problems and a weakened immune system.

People who are willing to focus their energy on using the time wisely – setting goals for each day, creating a routine and keeping busy in a meaningful way will fare better than those who don’t do that and instead, choose to feel powerless and hopeless and whom simply become lethargic and hopeless. The uncertainty of the length of social isolation can also worsen the psychological effect.

Further, people who might have particular mental health issues will be worse off with isolation; people with existing depression, anxiety or even hypochondria will be adversely affected more than someone who does not have either of those conditions.

What is the difference for elderly people and middle-aged people with families, with children?

Elderly people are much more adversely affected by this virus because first, they have the fear that they are more susceptible, they have a weaker immune system, and therefore they could get the virus and they could die from it easily. The second problem is that the social circle is much smaller for elderly people and because they’re so afraid of getting the virus that generally they’re not going to interact with anyone at all, regardless of what advice they are given.

For people that have a family – a single parent, or a married couple with children – they are able to interact with each other so they’re not going to feel as lonely or alone; they have the opportunity to touch each other, to hug, to hold. Hugging and touch is very important for our mental and emotional wellbeing because hugging, touching, kissing, caressing raises oxytocin in our body and oxytocin not only calms us, but it makes us feel more connected. It’s what we call the love hormone. It makes us bond with each other. Thus, for a family who are together, they’re in a much better place than an elderly person who cannot interact with anyone else.

What role can pets play to help people to survive this crisis?

Pets are a gift and a blessing because you can interact with your pet. You can play with your pet; you can caress and hug your pet; you can laugh with your pet; you can play games.

What I’ve found is that most people, when they experience loneliness, will go and buy a pet. Maybe they’ve just broken up from a relationship and they’ll go and get an animal because they’re feeling lonely. We already know that having a pet is a great way of easing and soothing, and responding to loneliness.

How can people respond to the constant onslaught on TV, internet and social media of terrible news and information about Coronavirus?

Recognize and acknowledge that the more you expose yourself to the news, which generates more fear, the worse you will feel. Limit your exposure to the news. What you could do is set a certain amount of time in the day, maybe in the morning, to check the news in case there’s been an important development and something that you need to do. Then, let it go and check again early evening. Don’t look at the news as soon as you wake up. Don’t look or listen, or read the news before you’re about to sleep because all of that fear, all of that negativity will be absorbed by you and you’ll end up sleeping with it, dreaming about it, or it will disrupt your sleep. Again, limit your exposure. All you need to do is get the most important news about a critical development: ‘is there something different I need to do, has there been a new rule, regulation or law which I need to follow?’

How can the trust in the media, politicians or medical community be restored?

I don’t know if I have the answer. I think that one way trust will be restored is, as the crisis continues to unfold, what the politicians, the medical community, or the scientists have been predicting, will either come true or it won’t. At that point we’ll have a better idea of who was telling the truth and who wasn’t telling the truth.

I think the other important point is that people don’t trust the medical community and even the politicians because they believe they’ve all been corrupted by the major pharmaceutical companies who have a lot to gain from selling you drugs. If you think about it, once they find a vaccine or a cure for coronavirus – and they are two different things – you can imagine that the pharmaceutical companies are going to make tens of billions of dollars. Imagine that there’s a vaccine for coronavirus and suddenly everyone has to be vaccinated. How much will the vaccine be? Will it be $5, $10, or $100? Now, multiply that by 5 – 7 billion people on the planet. There has been a progressively increasing level of skepticism and lack of trust in the medical community and in politicians and corporations because we see that many of them are driven by the desire for big profit without care for people and humanity.

Do you have any other concerns related to the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly about human rights?

I think it’s also important for people to recognize that fear and panic often stem from the attempt to try to control something that you can’t; second, our mind thinks in terms of a beginning and an end; alpha and omega. We always think that everything has a beginning and an ending. With this pandemic, with this virus, we can’t see the end. We don’t know when the end will be. During the 9/11 attacks or during various hurricanes that hit the United States of America or the tsunami in Japan, there was a period of trauma and then it finished, and then we spent all of our energy focusing on healing. Right now, each day, the trauma seems to intensify because we’re told more and more about what we need to be afraid of or where we’ve got more and more freedom being removed from each one of us. Thus, because there’s no specific end in sight it becomes much more frightening, much more traumatic for each of us while we also face major challenges to adapt to such rapid change.

When this is all over, we’re still going to have two major problems. How will we change after this is over? Who will we be? Will we go back to who we were? Will we be someone different, something different? Will we have more trust or less trust in our politicians, medical, and scientific community.

The other very serious concern is, what will happen during this crisis to human rights?

The US Department of Justice is trying to introduce legislation to give power to judges to indefinitely hold people without trial and suspend other constitutionally-protected rights during Coronavirus and other emergencies. The US Attorney General denied such a move is in place.

In China, Russia and even Israel, the governments are using technology to monitor people who’ve been exposed to the virus, who’ve had the virus, who overcame the virus or who came into contact with someone who had the virus. They are doing this by tracking people’s cellphones.

Accordingly, although these are potentially necessary actions during a crisis, the crisis itself can be an opportunity for governments to take away human rights and to take away freedom from people, and not give them back. That is a serious concern.

Already in Hungary, the government has introduced a bill that would give self-styled “illiberal” Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree indefinitely. The opposition tried to slow the bill, but Orban’s coalition has the supermajority it needs to pass the legislation anyway. It includes provisions to impose up to five years in prison on anyone judged to “distort facts” to weaken the government’s “defense measures.”

Can this development along with the forced lockdowns or ‘stay-at-home’ orders add more stress to people?

It’ll definitely add stress. There are also many people who have conspiracy theories (reality is not what you see – there is a hidden, dark motive.) Thus, a lot of people are saying this was a man-made virus and the intention is this – to control people. For example, some people say the intention is simply to control people, it’s to bring about a new world order. When people start to think like that then yes, they can have additional fear, additional anxiety, or anger, rage, or some other form of stress because if you believe that this virus was designed by someone to control you, to lock you down, to remove your rights, and to create a new world order, then you’re going to experience a lot more stress because it’s also something over which you have no direct control.

Learn more by listening to a radio interview Wanis gives about the psychological impact of isolation during Coronavirus. He also gives insights and tips on how to deal with the psychological impact of Covid-19.

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