In Shakespeare’s famous play “Romeo and Juliet”, Juliet talks of her family name and that of Romeo, and says “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. In other words, their love is forbidden just because of their family names. We know that language and the power of words has unique implications throughout nearly all aspects of our lives. In these very challenging times, the power of language is heightened, and we need to consider the messaging behind the words.
We are now very familiar with the term ‘social distancing’, the majority of us are doing our bit to stay home as much as we can, and when we do have to go out we try and keep at least 1.5m away from each other. This is probably the most important thing we can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, what is now also becoming more evident is the impact this is having on our mental health.
Studies undertaken by The University of Washington’s “Centre of Social and Social Connection” (and who knew there was such a faculty for this!) have found that In times of stress and illness, being deprived of social connection can create more stress and illness. People who are lonely have higher levels of the hormone cortisol, an indicator of stress; show weaker immune responses to pathogens, and are at increased risk for premature death. Isolation can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and other clinical conditions.
When we acknowledge that ‘social distancing’ has psychological and physical health risks it is time to consider changing the term to ‘physical distancing’. We definitely want to maintain that physical distance between each other, but we don’t want to disconnect socially. Our social connections are imperative to our mental and physical health. Now is the time to explore who we can maintain our social connections without compromising on doing all that we can to slow the spread of the virus.
It was only a few weeks ago that I would sigh each time I received another email into my already overcrowded inbox. I made a half-hearted attempt to keep up with Facebook, but mostly I only glanced at them once a week. Fast forward to today, and I am eagerly keeping up to date with friends and family via their Facebook posts (and maybe I hadn’t noticed how funny and clever they really are), emailing regularly, making facetime calls and even held a zoom meeting with three of my grandchildren this week. These connections are on top of the phone calls, text messages and even ‘snail mail’ that I have been using regularly. I am truly grateful to have these people in my life and to have access to the technology that enables me to stay connected.
So let’s ditch the term ‘social distance’, and instead observe ‘physical distance’ guidelines. Now more than ever we need to stay connected to each other so that we can get through this crisis together.
Remember: we are not ‘stuck’ at home, we are ‘safe’ at home