Isolation and mental torture amidst a global pandemic

BY DAVID ONJILI

On January 5, 2021, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that Britain was going into lockdown after a new surge in coronavirus infections and death. This is despite the great news that a vaccine had also been found by scientists at Oxford University in the UK. The tier 5 status meant that schools were to be closed, citizens to stay at home except for limited reasons like shopping for essentials, work if unable to do so remotely, seeking medical care and those escaping domestic abuse.

While the world continues to focus on the economic plight across the globe that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the mental aspect is slowly roaring its ugly head. Many individuals have lost their sources of income and some have to put up with slashed salaries but increased workloads.

“I had to wiggle my way out and book a flight to Kenya alongside my two other friends,” Emanuel Otis says on why he had to ‘escape’ from London and come home. “The lockdown is crazy. You have to stay indoors the whole day, and are only allowed to go out once a day when absolutely necessary. It is mental torture,” he said.

The last time Emmanuel was at work was in March 2020, then the pandemic forced many to work remotely. His business, a restaurant in downtown London was one of the many businesses that have remained shut due to the regulations in place by the British Government. There have been grants and some stimulus packages that the Government has offered and this has helped him provide some basic income to number of his staff. Not much, by his own admission. So why did he actually ‘run away’?

Living in a flat in London and not being able to go out to the gym, restaurant, the park for a walk or even jog is mentally strenuous. In the entire period since the pandemic began, Emmanuel knows of three of his neighbours who committed suicide inside their apartments. The loneliness put a mental strain in a number of the deaths he witnessed going by the investigations into their causes.

Emmanuel admits that humans are social beings, and locking up people in their homes is slowly killing many. They may not be physically dead but we have many dead men walking. English poet John Donne of the 17th century was indeed right, no man is an island. We need each other and this self-isolation is hurting many.

In a global advisory survey conducted by Ipsos last year of nearly 14,000 people across 15 major countries, 43% of the respondents said that they were impatient to get back to real life. Another 34% are anxious about their health, while 15% are lonely and 12% are angry about restrictions to their freedom.

Extroverts who are used to more social engagements, phone calls and video conferencing may not be enough for them. They are struggling with these substitutes. Regardless of people’s social likings, experts agree that we will face lasting impact as we are forced to put up with barriers that many had never encountered before.

Greg Gwiasda, Vice President of Ipsos’ Behavioural Science Center in the U.S observes that isolation leads people to crave social interaction, and when they do not get it, it leads to mistrust and cynicism. Emmanuel, for instance, admits that he was mentally exhausted of being indoors and not having a chance to go out for a pint with friends or even the gym. He felt like a slave and clearly understands why a number of his neighbors took away their lives. He admits that being abroad is quite lonely, and when social interactions are cut off then it becomes unbearable.

The psychological effects that the lockdown and isolation have had on many citizens are immense. Currently, we cannot quantify it, but health experts warn that over time we will be faced with their adverse effects. It is healthy to keep checking on your family and friend during these hard times. When you notice a friend is quiet over a period of time, call them and lend an ear. That call could be a lifesaver. Finally, it is not shameful to seek professional help when you feel overwhelmed. A problem shared is already half solved.
For now, Emmanuel feels happy that he is miles away from London. Free and can continue being the social human being that he is. Sadly, many of his peers are not as lucky as he is, they remain locked in their houses in the executive flats in London.

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