Mental Health, Social Isolation and Covid-19

Updated: Oct 23

In these days of Covid-19 and social isolation, many of us are facing challenges connecting with ourselves while dealing with intense emotional reactions, like depression or anxiety.

Sadly, the aging population in the United States is no stranger to coping with emotional challenges. According to an article published in ConsultGeri by The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, depression affects about 5 million Americans aged 65 and older. The percentage of reported major depression among hospitalized older adults at the time of the article was 10-12%, with a staggering 54% among those within their first year of living in a nursing home. Obviously, in America, we have been dealing with major issues regarding mental health among aging adults before this Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

I’m interested in learning how these numbers will change as a reflection of this pandemic. Recently, besides leading Ittaika related projects, I have been assuming my role as a healthcare provider, treating patients in the Medical ICU and Acute Care departments at a major hospital in the Houston area. While treating my patients, I have seen more than my share of older adults expressing feelings of intense sadness and even guilt.

Most hospitals, to prevent further spread of the virus and protect patients, implemented a no visitor policy. Now our patients rely only on hospital staff (dressed up in non-human form with plastic and masks covering every part of our bodies) for “human” interaction.

For me, it is heartbreaking to hear many of the older patients asking why their relatives are not visiting them, some requesting to please call their relatives and “apologize for anything” that they did wrong. They just want to see them. Patients are educated about the new hospital rules, and many of them use technology to connect remotely with their relatives, but maybe illness, confusion, and a kind of cabin fever makes them forget. I witness how, when these patients share their emotional distress, their vital signs shift to unhealthy parameters. Obviously, the effects of social isolation on their mental health is taking a further toll on their already sick bodies.

We are dealing with extraordinary circumstances during extraordinary times, but if we don’t deal with the problem of mental health among our aging adult population now, then when? When this pandemic is over? We don’t know for how long Covid-19 is here to stay.

I invite you to take powerful action to help our older adult population during these tough times. Spare a moment to reflect, get creative and use your unique talents to find ways to support them. They need us.

We have a great opportunity in our hands to create a better future for our older adult population, and thus, for all of us. By connecting with them, we can find a way to connect with ourselves.