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Herald Editorial: Pandemic reveals necessity of support network

By Herald Editorial Board - | Jun 6, 2020

Human beings are wired for connection.

Many studies over the years have confirmed this, and many scientists agree that the emotional pain associated with having our social ties damaged or severed can have negative consequences on our overall health.

It may therefore come as no surprise that law enforcement and other first responders in Utah County recently reported an uptick in the number of mental wellness calls during COVID-19 quarantine efforts.

It’s terribly unfortunate to see this, and although it doesn’t make up the entirety of mental health issues being reported, it’s a reflection of the toll isolation and a lack of social support can have on individuals over an extended period of time.

It also raises an unbelievably important question: When was the last time you made a friend?

Not an acquaintance. Not a good working relationship. A friend.

Friends can increase your sense of belonging, reduce stress and boost self-confidence. They can also add meaning to your life and challenge you to grow as a person. Health outcomes such as increased happiness and longevity are also experienced when a healthy support network of friends is available.

Quarantine efforts, however, seem to exacerbate an already existing problem. Friends, for a recognizable percentage of the population, are difficult to come by.

A YouGov survey from 2019 revealed that millennials are a rather lonely generation. Thirty percent say they always, or often, feel lonely; and 27% say they have no close friends. That same survey indicates that 20% of Generation X respondents felt the same way.

A similar study in 2019 from OnePoll surveyed 2,000 Americans and learned that 45% of adults found it difficult to make new friends. So difficult, in fact, that the average adult has not made a new friend in the last five years.

Quarantine certainly did not make efforts to gain friends any easier. The inability to hug, or put a hand on another person’s shoulder was difficult for nearly everyone to endure. Even if the attempt was made to go out in public, the expectation to stay 6 feet apart, avoid shaking hands and taking precautions when a transaction takes place added even more obstacles.

We do have social media at our fingertips to meet others. At last check, though, the health of the discourse in that landscape could easily be described as a disaster.

Maybe it’s unfair to suggest that all of the 34% year-over-year increase in mental wellness calls between February and May in Utah County involved suicide attempts, and maybe it’s unfair to attribute a majority of that increase to quarantine and a lack of human connection. It’s perfectly reasonable, however, to see the correlation when there’s a sustained and irregular increase in reported mental wellness incidents during an international pandemic.

Having more, and better, friendships may not have prevented some of these calls to local law enforcement, but most mental health professionals would agree those numbers would have been reduced with a healthy support network.

If there’s one thing COVID-19 lockdown efforts should have taught many to appreciate, it’s connection with our friends, family and neighbors.

Now, with quarantine largely at an end in the state of Utah, the opportunity to form a close connection with others is on the upswing.

Sure, it’s vulnerable and sometimes nerve wracking to put yourself out there and meet new people. Just remember that the numbers say you’re not alone in your loneliness. There are others looking for connection who don’t have any, and many more who do have close connection and friendships who would like more.

Use this opportunity, a renewal of interacting with others socially, to form connections, reduce stress, increase happiness and challenge yourself to grow.

We all need you.


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