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Ask the Pharmacist: The sad side effect of 2020

Suzy Cohen
Columnist
A 2016 study in the journal Heart linked loneliness and social isolation to a 32% increased risk of having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease.

The year 2020 gives new meaning to the word selfie. Taking a selfie used to be normal, but now it’s a reflection of how alone everyone is. 

An article published in the Dec. 3 issue of JAMA Psychiatry reviewed data and found a clear and disturbing trend of overdose deaths related specifically to isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is another sad side effect of 2020.

While every adult understands the need to have flattened the curve, paramedics and frontline health care professionals have echoed the troubling suicide trend. It is only going to get worse through the holidays as it often does when loneliness and isolation become more desperate. 

Studies show that suicide is becoming more common among young people. Isolation and loneliness often lead to feelings of hopelessness.

If your mind is wandering and imaging a senior in a rocking chair by the fire place, holding nothing but a cat, sitting all alone and missing their recently departed spouse, you’d be way off base. The overdose deaths and suicides are occurring in middle aged people and teenagers. In fact, contemplating a handful of pills is something that impacts our children according to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child  and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researchers came to the grim conclusion that kids are going to become more depressed and anxious during after the 2020 home isolation trend ends. Clinical services, prescriptions, psychiatrists and other support may be needed throughout the lives of our adolescents due to the increase in mental health problems occurring right now. 

Loneliness and isolation is much worse for people who have mental health conditions such as depression, grief, chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, bipolar, insomnia and/or substance abuse. You would think that social media engagement reduces feelings of anxiety and isolation, however, it’s just the opposite for many people. Social media may fuel feelings of depression, anxiety, envy and loneliness. Honestly, I think Facebook was the original social distancing app.

The United States is exploding with new cases of suicide. It’s not just overdosing which has skyrocketed either, although that rate is 50% higher than the past two years according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We’re a species that needs connection, hugs and contact. What we’re living under is so abnormal that there will be mental health side effects for years to come.  We can all be more vigilant about staying in touch with our loved ones, relatives, and friends. We can share more random acts of kindness.

It’s easy to ease someone’s loneliness if you choose to. And if time constrains you from reaching everyone in your contact list, focus on the people who are the most vulnerable. Send emojis, quotes, and stories. Call them on the phone, drop flowers off on the doorstep. This act of kindness might be the greatest gift you give this Christmas. We simply do not know what head space another person is in.

If you are an individual seeking help, the new suicide prevention number is just 3 digits, dial 988.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit SuzyCohen.com.