Valentine’s came and went and it might just well be for the silent majority who were caught in the pandemic without a romantic partner or went through a breakup. Physical distancing, inasmuch as it’s a measure in mitigating Covid-19, is also making a lot of people lonelier than ever.
In the US, a survey reported by medicalnewstoday.com last year shows that the coronavirus pandemic has gravely affected the psychological health of young adults. The study described the increase in loneliness as “alarming.” It showed that of 1,008 people aged 18 to 35 years old, 80 percent of the participants said they were going through “significant depressive symptoms” amid the crisis.
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The study likewise revealed that those experiencing anxiety (76 percent) also experienced loss of feelings of being connected (58 percent) and depression (78 percent). Thus, of these individuals, 58 percent said that they had increased the amount of alcohol they drank and 56 percent had increased their use of drugs.
Loneliness has become a global concern as well and one doesn’t even have to look far from home to become aware of family or friends who have been battling sadness and anxiety at present.
Minister of loneliness
In Japan, Tomohiro Osaki holds the tough post of being the first ever Minister of Loneliness in his country after the government saw a rise in suicide rates in 11 years. According to insider.com, more people died in 2020 of suicide than Covid-19.
Being a Loneliness Minister isn’t a new idea. In 2018, the United Kingdom appointed Tracey Crouch to a similar post after a 2017 report showed that more than nine million people said that they felt lonely most if not all of the time. The importance of such a job stuck as the country has gone through three loneliness ministers. Elsewhere, Australia has created a similar position as well.
But there’s nothing sappy about keeping people’s mental wellness in check. There are studies that show loneliness is associated with heart disease, dementia and eating disorders. Total wellness means keeping the balance between being physically and mentally fit.
In the Philippines, onlinelibrary.wiley.com reported a recent study by medical practitioners Leodoro Labrague, Janet Alexis de los Santos and Charlie Falguera on the social and emotional loneliness that college students are going through in this pandemic.
The milestone study, in the sense that it’s one of the first researches showing the effects of emotional health brought by Covid-19, was participated in by 303 college students. The study revealed that loneliness is a weighty concern, and that “resilience, coping behaviors and social support” are protective measures to battle it.
Because of the lockdown and the shift in learning mode from face-to-face to online classes, college students have had to seek interventions to boost their resilience, get social support and improve their coping behaviors while in quarantine and while physical distancing is still the norm to help “flatten the curve.”
The study claimed that the seeming isolation as part of health protocols “particularly among young people, these measures may have had profound emotional and psychological consequences, including social isolation and loneliness, and resulting from the disruption in their daily routines and social interactions with peers and family.”
Its researchers further mentioned, “Mounting evidence has shown a higher prevalence rate of loneliness among young people during the Covid-19 pandemic, when compared to older adults.
Various studies have estimated that at least 38 to 50 percent of young people aged 18 to 24 years old experienced higher levels of loneliness during the mandatory lockdown, with women having higher odds of experiencing loneliness than men.”
Pinoy loneliness minister?
Surviving the Covid-19 pandemic is about building communities. We heal as one country by staying connected, keeping the public informed and supporting public health concerns along the way.
Loneliness is getting to be a critical health issue that could lead to various physical and psychological illnesses — including anxiety, depression and suicide. It leads to somatic symptoms like insomnia, headaches, muscle pain to heart diseases like stroke and hypertension. Studies also show that loneliness lowers one’s immune system, a key factor in preventing Covid-19.
Loneliness is alienation, which is not typical among Filipinos who value family and connections with extended families and adopted families (in the form of friends and neighbors). The erosion, I think, stems from the financial shock, the loss of jobs, the ability to be confident about one’s future that magnifies our isolation as individuals. There is a longing to be secure with one’s self and with loved ones. A longing to find contentment with one has at the moment — despite the persistence of economic challenges.
This brings us to this question: What will be the purpose of a Loneliness Minister in the Philippines? What qualifications should one have? Perhaps one skilled in the field of mental wellness, one filled with empathy and a genuine commitment to public care and service? Maybe someone who can run an office with the sincere agenda of uplifting Filipinos’ mental health in the midst of all the dire health and economic trauma persisting in these times?
Got anyone in mind?