Community in the Time of Coronavirus

By: Dr. Atif Adam Ph.D., MD, MPH Treasurer, AMHP Download the full newsletter here.

The COVID-19 crisis has ushered in a “new normal” in 2020 and is widely viewed as the most disruptive event of our times. With all countries actively battling the COVID-19 virus, it has taken its toll in everyday lives the world over, both personally and professionally. The pressing mental health need doesn’t have a vaccine or therapeutic to offer as a quick fix. Even before 2020, 1-in-5 Americans reported experiencing a mental illness in a given year(1). Social distancing measures over the past few months have further exacerbated feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. 

But there are other “new normals” in 2020 that have brought us together as a community. 

Digital connectivity:

People are rapidly jumping to digital technologies to “virtually interact” with families and friends from all over the world. It’s not that these tools and platforms did not exist before COVID-19. The need for “physical isolation” has opened doors to stay “socially connected”.  We are having zoom parties and online bingo nights through zoom with friends and families who we have not connected in years. Extended families are not a pain to talk to anymore since you can mute them as needed. While still missing the finer nuances of meeting people in person, this form of digital connectivity has helped people build communities to share their COVID-19 stories, take a break from remote workloads, and mostly just understand that they are not alone.

Openness to talk: 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, living alone can often lead to increased feelings of fear, anxiety and isolation. As the number of people affected escalate, one thing is clear: no matter where we live, those who live alone or are isolated face heightened risk. It’s no surprise that loneliness has been a public health threat in the United States, even before current times. But again, while social distancing measures have heightened anxiety states, it has also allowed people to both talk about and relate to feelings of loneliness. The vast influx of resources ranging from support groups in various social media outlets to more local resources from health facilities and communities have created new avenues for people to reach out without being stigmatized. 

Active breaks to relax:

Other than toilet paper, the next hardest things to find in a local grocer has been flour, yeast, and other baking supplies. Families and individuals are flocking to digital platforms to learn how to cook exciting new dishes or jump on a group call to share recipes. I for one, get a new dish every Sunday through my wife’s new cooking group! You don’t have to bake and cook. There are people joining meditation groups, prayers sessions etc. Finding ways to relax has been an active proponent of our lives that last few months. 

 As we look into the future and our daily routines return, we should take some time to think about what truly is important from our mental well-being. The lessons and tools we picked up in the start of 2020 have shown as us that there are simple and effective ways to continue to stay engaged with folks that we care about, and that acts of caring don’t have to always be timed with physical proximity. A simple Whatsapp thread, a short call or a 30-member family zoom call all say the same thing: you are not alone. 

The old saying of love has no boundaries is pretty apt for our current COVID-19 times.

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