Currently, well over 100 countries have implemented either total or partial lockdown initiatives worldwide. And, reports show this approach to gradually decrease the severity of the pandemic, especially in the Western world. Afterall, Wuhan, otherwise referred to as ground zero lifted their movement restrictions last week. However, observers have not found the same success in the Global South, the final hit from the pandemic; thus reinforcing the urgency of distancing and restriction protocols.
Social Distancing Not Social Neglect
A “pressure cooker waiting to blow” was how one article quoting a divorce attorney explained the quarantine period. Indeed, several analyses and reports suggest an increase in divorce rates amid the pandemic. All these speak to one truth that while fighting the continued spread of the virus, battles are looming, such as the fight for one’s sanity and sense of normalcy – finding the new normal.
Consequently, instead of making do with monthly physical meetings, we have several zoom meetings, and tech companies are indeed leveraging on the lockdown to push forward their alternatives. For example, Redmont giant Microsoft saw a spike in “Teams“- their collaborative app- usage rise from 32 to 44 million active uses, since the pandemic. More so, Zoom has risen to number 21 on the Alexa global app ranking list, just before Netflix. So, with all of life becoming digital, what happens to productivity and zeal? Some companies, for the most part, seem to be trodding on just fine. But for others, reinventing the wheel seems to be imperative.
The internet: the double-edged sword
Worse still, all that additional time spent on the internet, how beneficial is it? In actuality, childhood, teenagehood and even adulthood on some level have a storied history when it comes to internet usage. The internet, a 20th-century invention like most inventions have come with its share of ills owing to misuse. And, because of the freedom and access it brings, it has sometimes brought out the not-so-good side in humanity, emphasising the need for control and even censorship with its usage, especially for kids. However, despite the best efforts of parental control applications and internet administrator modules, kids of today still find virtual private networks (VPN) and other countermeasures to access the content they desire.
Further, the lockdown and online schooling or postponement (as in some cases) might create a recipe for unforeseen disaster.
About such development, UNICEF has noted how:
“spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualised images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as a greater risk of cyberbullying.”
Even more dire is the possible effect the lockdown may have on mental health. Whether it’s about feeling caged or having FOMO (fear of missing out), this pandemic is testing the mental limitations of everyone. And we mean everyone- from the healthcare professionals on the frontline to recovered patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and for those with pre-existing mental health problems. Taking the previous SARS pandemic, for example, statisticians observed a 30% spike in suicide rates in those over 65. Not to mention approximately half of all recovered patients remained anxious following the SARS pandemic.
What’s more, it is ironic how social distancing, touted as a critical enabler for flattening the curve, is also, in the opinion of several researchers, a significant trigger of mental health challenges. Moreover, replacing real-life interactions with online activities, while beneficial in ensuring contact, also has the added effect of depression for some, according to experts.
FOMO as we mentioned earlier, though seemingly trivial, is a severe issue. Blame it on influencers, celebrities or fitness enthusiasts; but everyone at every crevice of the internet seems to be doing the most with their time. Does this make you feel like you’re missing out and that you are not alone? In reality, most studies show a direct link between depression and prolonged use of social media.
On the other hand, some studies indicate the positive impact of social media concerning self-esteem. We surmise that it depends on the extent of usage and regulation.
The need for a change
The old saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ remains truthful, as many of us feel to reinvent ourselves during and possibly after this pandemic. Tech giant, Microsoft, seems to think so when it suggests that the proliferation of virtual meetings and workplace was going to change the way we do things in the long run. Dubawa echoes this sentiment. Not only that, but it is also not enough to only recognise the bane of internet misuse, it needs us to pay attention to potential effects. This rationale holds, especially for countries like Nigeria with low mental health awareness. If we are to push past this (and we will) many things have to give.
Having recognised some of the ills that befall this lockdown period, perhaps it’s time to look at possible solutions or mitigative initiatives.
A significant strategy we can all employ includes limiting the news content we read. A downside about the internet era is the extensive amount of information available. While it is necessary to stay informed, it is also worth noting the need to be literate and selective about our information diet as some of them border on fear-mongering. Such news only heightens anxiety levels, causes phobia and may trigger other unwholesome conditions for some people. It is, therefore, necessary for us to stick to valid, independent and reputable sources.
While social distancing and self-isolation are perhaps ambiguous words; they in no way imply abandoning our support systems. It is crucial to stay connected to family and friends. It is also worth noting that while psychological support may be physically inaccessible, psychologists, and their clients around the world are turning to online counselling sessions. Support groups, self-help guides, webinars and counselling sessions have been made available at the click of a button. The World Health Organisation also recommends applying healthy coping strategies during the pandemic. Planned activities like adequate rest, healthy nutrition accompanied by regular exercise will go a long way; also vital is maintaining relationships and contact with family and friends.