Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Editorial: The black hole of isolation

The Fassifern has a scenic grandeur and rural ambience that can regularly make its residents pinch themselves to ensure they are not dreaming a lifestyle that is the envy of many.

Its mountains, valleys, lakes and creeks are a grand soul-fest for all - spiritual and secular. Its wildlife, flora and fauna a virtual cornucopia of nature.

It’s a place full of life and vitality. Unless it is visited by drought or fire.

A wonderful place to live, whether you are a hermit or members of a large family. Unless your lives are disrupted by the public health rigors of the Coronavirus.

Even then, life in the Fassifern would certainly be much better than that disclosed in a television news report of a single-mum with three children - two autistic - confined by virus regulations to a one-bedroom flat near the top of a West London tower block.

A recipe for despair … and worse. 

However - although children bottled up at home can be a handful - a woman working from home while overseeing schoolwork for her four children disclosed in last week’s Guardian that she had found it a rewarding experience for the whole family.

For those who have found it more of a struggle, some relief will arrive next week with the resumption of term two in Queensland schools for vulnerable students, the children of essential workers, and teachers and other staff.

Other students will study term two through remote learning online until at least May 22. That’s many more weeks for those parents and children feeling ever more frustrated by the exigencies of self-isolation.

If the virus were visible in the form of, say a mist, they would be able to suffer that frustration more gladly and help our public health defenders by avoiding places where they could see it lurking foggily in ambush.

But if we are to win this war we have to follow the public health advice about: Social spacing when going out for an essential reason such as shopping; no touching; wearing masks and gloves; washing hands and faces; staying away from crowds; and staying indoors as far as possible, especially if one is in the older and infirm age group.

The 2016 census for the Scenic Rim found that just over 20 percent of its population was aged 65 and over. That means that one-fifth of our population should be in self-isolation for an indeterminate period.

And the uncertainty surrounding the length of that confinement is undoubtedly leading to feelings of loneliness, stress, and depression. Even in the wonderland of the Fassifern.

Fortunately, it’s a wonderland that is inhabited by some wonderful people and there are already many examples of neighbours communicating with and helping neighbours, particularly if they are disadvantaged by way of age, health, income or domestic arrangements.

Not only are they helping with services, their company - at a distance - is also helping to relieve the inevitable drift towards boredom.

And boredom, it has been said, is a prison camp. While self-isolation has been compared to solitary confinement.

All of which paints a bleak picture of Fortress Australia and the ramparts of the Fassifern as we lie under siege to the Coronavirus.

It’s a picture not helped by overseas reports that even short periods of isolation can cause increased anxiety or depression ‘within days’.

The explanation for this is that we have evolved as social animals in family and tribal structures, craving and relying on interaction with others.

So social distancing and self-isolation have created a black hole in our social dynamics.

It’s a necessary black hole according to our scientists and medical experts. And technology has already helped to ease some of the pain of a different Easter with its videoconferencing, video-calling, social networking, texting and mobile phones.

None of which is a perfect substitute for a personal, face-to-face albeit three-metre distance meeting. And although skyping, zooming, emailing and texting may help to avert a sense of isolation or loneliness for some, they may not be much use to an older cohort that is possibly not tech savvy enough to engage in such activities.

Boredom is possibly more of a problem for the middle-aged or younger. To avoid it, lonely people in the 65-75 age bracket may join social or volunteer groups, take up a hobby, read, listen to music, watch TV, do some gardening, or solve puzzles.

But for previously active people, self-isolation can be a boring hell. Combine it with loneliness and its associated feelings of depression and suicide, add in a mix of alcohol and drugs, and you’ve got a potential health bomb with a short or long fuse.

Overseas research has shown that living isolated and alone for years is linked to premature death from chronic inflammatory conditions that are milder in the bodies of those who were more socially connected and lived longer.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, USA, also says there is evidence that periods of shorter isolation can have immediate, short-term effects - such as a sudden spike in blood pressure triggering some acute event, possibly linked to an underlying condition.

In addition, she says people can suffer in social isolation because of the lack of personal relationships which otherwise help them to cope with stress.

So, it’s not just a slogan. Your ability to survive in the current climate of concern created by the Coronavirus can depend on whether or not you feel as if you have at least someone else you can rely on - giving you hope that you can get through it together.

This is our opportunity to be the light in someone’s life … take the opportunity to dispell what for some is the darkness of isolation … make that phone call, send that text, write that letter …