Loneliness has a negative impact on physical and mental health, even more than do obesity, inadequate physical activity or exposure to air pollution. Now add a pandemic and its “new rules” of physical distancing to the picture, and the situation becomes especially fraught.
So what is one to do? Lisa Streyffeler, Ph.D., LP, assistant professor and chair of the University’s department of behavioral medicine, medical humanities and bioethics, offered some ideas: She was the featured speaker on “Vital Connections: The Importance of Maintaining Relationships in a Pandemic,” the first of a lecture series on mental health offered by DMU’s global health department, its international partners and the University’s continuing medical education department.
“Humans primarily seek relationships, not primarily pleasure,” she said. “We are hurt and heal through relationships. The inadequate ability to form and maintain health relationships is a major barrier to quality of life.”
The virtual lecture series provides an opportunity to learn about topics in mental health from experts from around the world. It’s free, open to the public and available for continued medical education (CME) credit. Sessions can be viewed “live” via Zoom or in video recordings posted afterward. Future lectures are listed below; for more information, visit the global health department’s Facebook page.
In her talk, Dr. Streyffeler provided a definition of loneliness as “a feeling of distress caused by one’s desired level of social relationships not matching one’s experience of social relationships.” She shared research published in the July 7, 2020, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association that revealed American adults reported symptoms of serious psychological distress at higher rates in April 2020 than they did in 2018. That was especially true among young adults aged 18 to 29, adults with household income of less than $35,000 per year and Hispanic adults.
“Pandemics create emotional as well as physical illness,” she said. Unfortunately, screen-based interactions, such as those ubiquitous Zoom meetings, don’t fully meet our need for connection, given their millisecond delays in audio, inability to establish mutual eye contact, lack of verbal cues and the temptation they spark to multi-task, which does not increase well-being.
Dr. Streyffeler offered several ways to mitigate the effects of loneliness and isolation for oneself and for others. They include:
- Call or write to loved ones regularly
- Use social media to connect with loved ones, but not to do battle or compare one’s life unfavorably to others
- Use apps that create groups where participants can share how they’re doing
- Develop daily and weekly structures that establish time to connect, work, play, move and practice spirituality
- Reach out for help as needed
- Following CDC pandemic guidelines, offer to help others or volunteer
Future sessions of the DMU global health lecture series (times are CST):
- Oct. 2, noon: “Mental Health in the New Normal,” Dr. Miriam Osorio, a faculty member in the undergraduate medical program at Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC)
- Oct. 16, noon: “Death, Grief and Compassion Fatigue,” Dr. Luz Marina Cano, professor of nursing and medicine, Juan N. Corpas University
- Oct. 27, 9 a.m.: “Cognitive Decline of Older Adults in Africa: How Do We Detect It?” Dr. Noeline Nakasujja, associate professor, Makerere University, Oct. 27, 9 a.m.
- Nov. 5, noon: “Improving Access to Psychosocial Services in Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” Dr. Michael Grosspietsch, founder and executive director of the Global Management Institute and mHubs; Esther Mbau, country director of mHub Kenya; and Yvonne Uwamahoro, health of mental health services at mHub Rwanda
- Nov. 13, 9 a.m.: “Cultural Factors’ Influence on Mental Health in Vietnam,” Dr. Tran Nhu Minh Hang, head of the psychiatry department, Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy
- Nov. 16, 9:30 a.m.: “Delivery of Mental Health Care in Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi,” Dr. Darius Gishoma, senior lecturer, mental health department, University of Rwanda