- There is a large body of evidence which suggests that the factors which now govern all of our lives lead to negative outcomes for physical and mental health. One recent study by health researcher Oliver Hämmig of socially isolated people in Switzerland, for example, found that "social isolation is not only detrimental to general, mental, and cardiovascular health but also to musculoskeletal health." These effects are the worst for older people, but were found in all age groups. For example, 48 percent of the most socially isolated children and adolescents in the study were found to have depressive disorders. Overall, socially isolated individuals were seven times as likely as the fully integrated to experience poor health outcomes. Another large 2015 study found that social isolation, loneliness, and even living alone are all associated with substantially increased all-cause mortality.
The indisputable health costs of isolation should force us to ask some difficult questions. How long can social distancing be maintained before the toll becomes unbearable for many? What structures can and will be put into place to help individuals through the inevitable mental health crisis that will accompany prolonged isolation? Is there a point at which the damage to society outweighs whatever benefits to overwhelmed health care systems can be realized with these policies? To be clear: I am not questioning whether these measures are necessary today, or whether they will save lives. Clearly they will, and we have no choice but to shoulder the burden, not just to save the vulnerable but also to protect the health and sanity of frontline doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, to say nothing of unsung heroes like grocery store clerks and delivery drivers.