Under the Same Roof During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Quality Time, Loneliness and Isolation

Aggiornato il: 30 lug 2020

by Dr. Anis Ben Brik, Associate Professor, Hamad Bin Khalifa University College of Public Policy, Doha, Qatar.

Many families across the world have already entered into a “new normal” during this unprecedented period of quarantine. For many families, the shutdowns designed to halt the spread of Covid-19 mean disrupted education and childcare, possible health problems, violence, potential loss of household income, food insecurity and poverty. Family routines have been stripped away and been replaced by the challenge of creating a way of life that somehow manages to balance work with rest and prudence with peace.

According to a study conducted by University of Michigan researchers, stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus has taken its toll on American parents: More parents have shouted, yelled or screamed at their children at least once in the past two weeks. One in five parents spanked or slapped their child.

Another survey of 1,783 parents in the UK, showed that nearly half (43%) of parents of young children said their household had nearly run out of money as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, according to a survey of  Quebec parents, 83 per cent of adults surveyed say they feel worried and insecure, 77 per cent say they feel sad and 71 per cent say they have trouble sleeping. A total of 56 per cent of Quebec parents say the psychological and emotional state of their child has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. The feeling of loneliness is the biggest impact on their children’s mental health, according to 42 per cent of parents surveyed.

Loneliness and social isolation can be the catalyst for many mental health problems, including acute stress disorders, irritability, insomnia, emotional distress, mood disorders, including depressive symptoms, fear and panic, anxiety, frustration and boredom, loneliness, self-harm, suicide, substance abuse. The COVID19 exacerbated Loneliness epidemic. Older people can be more vulnerable to being lonely (and living alone) with declining social circles, deteriorating health, death of partners and friends.

Recent study found that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the truth that was there all along: anyone, anywhere, of any age can experience loneliness.

More than half (55%) of individuals said their mental health is suffering because of the coronavirus outbreak, especially millennials (63%) and parents with young children (64%). More women than men — 56% and 54%, respectively— said the coronavirus has taken a toll on their mental health, according to recent survey.

In addition, COVID-19 loneliness can be especially hard on teenagers. A recent survey in Canada revealed that almost 32 percent of students, aged between 10 to 20, said they had considered attempting suicide in the previous four-week period, while three percent had actually made an attempt. Another survey of American teenagers, revealed that 42 percent of teens said they feel lonelier than normal, with a slightly higher percentage of girls reporting the feeling. 

Pandemic conditions, repeated media consumption and constant health messaging around Covid-19 can have an exacerbating effect on the mental health of those in isolation. The mental health impacts of this pandemic often continue beyond the quarantine period. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, avoidance behaviour and anger may be seen.

There is also a need to recognise that older people who previously had not reported being socially isolated and lonely may be disproportionately affected by the requirements of social isolation due to COVID-19. A recent survey in Italy suggests the need for interventions that make isolation more desirable, such as virtual social interactions, online social reading activities, classes, exercise routines. Interventions from many countries for tackling loneliness and social isolation during COVID-19 include low-tech community-based programs, high-tech digital approaches, nurse-led care coordination models, and proactive national policies to reduce loneliness.

In Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the COVID-19 outbreak is having an unprecedented impact on families, children, women and elderly with far-reaching social consequences. The coronavirus outbreak will increase inequality as marginalized communities especially those living in refugee camps, informal housing, and besieged areas will be disproportionately exposed to the pandemic and its socioeconomic impacts. In addition, low income families– a large proportion of the MENA population will face a greater pressure on their source of income, as they do not benefit from remote work or paid leave.

In MENA region, women spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care responsibilities emerging from the outbreak such as home-schooling and caring for the sick and the elderly than men, thus further entrenching gender norms and widening gender gaps in the region. Nearly to 62% of women in the region are informally employed in jobs often unregistered and that generally lack basic social or legal protection. UN Women estimates that women in the MENA region will lose approximately 700,000 jobs as a result of the outbreak.

The pandemic brings to light the failings of large, institutional settings for the long-term care of families, children and older persons. All societies must find novel ways of boosting inter-generational solidarity with older persons without putting them at risk of infection.

Despite the inconvenience and various concerns we have surrounding the situation, coronavirus has created a unique opportunity for families to spend ample quality time together. For the first time since the early 19th century, many parents and kids — and even grandchildren — are all under the same roof round-the-clock. And if past periods of emergency are any guide, this enforced togetherness could deepen relationships for years to come. According to the survey of 2,000 British parents conducted by MumPoll, four in five parents believe helped their family bond. The survey found half of all families are spending more time playing traditional games and puzzles, while three-in-10 are reading more books together. Another 30% say they’ve formed book clubs and read together. 60% of parents report that they are happier with their partner after four weeks in quarantine.