In an attempt to adjust to a new normal, Canadians had to adapt to their surroundings. This meant learning how to live separately from loved ones and friends, avoiding and limiting social gatherings and facing the realities of what it truly meant to be alone.
The mere thought of commuting to an office to socialize with others has been more like a dream for some since March 2020, while for others there is a constant fear of putting your life at risk just doing your job as an essential worker.
Last April, at the height of adjusting to a major life change following the declaration of the global pandemic, a survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Global News found more than half of Canadians felt lonely and isolated.
Young adults under 35 reported feeling the most isolated.
Later that year, a report from Morneau Shepell found Canadians were feeling even lonelier than they did at the beginning of the pandemic, and even more feared dying of COVID-19.
The company’s overall mental health index for September 2020 was down 10.2 points from its prior benchmark. Numbers over the summer were even worse.
Either way, we felt it.
Alia Chan, a registered clinical counsellor based in Vancouver says research done in the last year around the topic makes it clear discussions around loneliness need to happen now.
“Loneliness can kill,” she tells Global News. “Just like the coronavirus has taken lives.”
She says while feeling lonely or isolated isn’t new, this pandemic has brought chronic loneliness top of mind.
“We should differentiate the loneliness … physical isolation doesn’t always mean loneliness,” she says.
“Loneliness is a feeling, you can feel alone even you’re in a room full of people.”
Human beings, she says, desire social connection. “Biologically we need other people … loneliness comes from the inability to make connections and reach out emotionally and mentally.”
In the next few weeks, Global News’ Alone and Apart series will take a look at how loneliness has shaped our human experience with one another and the gaps that still exist in battling in what some experts call the “loneliness pandemic.”
We will break down what it means to be in a relationship in 2021 — romantic or otherwise — and how we’ve reconditioned ourselves to make new social connections.
We will look into Canada’s senior population who are often most at risk of loneliness and find out if there is a one-size-fits-all solution that can tackle loneliness head-on. We’ll also dive into Canada’s long-term care plan for our elders, the gaps that exist and the policies that need to change.
Alone and Apart will also look at loneliness and what it does to our mental health.
How do we cope with feelings of loneliness and when do we need professional help? Experts will help us outline what this could mean for Canada once the pandemic is over, and how these moments of loneliness will affect us down the road.
The series will also dig into personal finances, living conditions and more.
Over the past few weeks, various experts have spoken to Global News lifestyle reporters on this “epidemic.”
Experts say for some people, reengaging with our social networks in post-pandemic-life will be easy, but for those who were struggling with mental health prior to the pandemic, it could be harder to adjust.
Kate Mulligan, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who researches loneliness says during this uncertain time, it’s important to consider how loneliness itself is an equity issue.
“Different populations who are experiencing loneliness for different reasons need those different solutions,” she says.
For some, this could mean access to things like the internet or devices to stay virtually connected. For others, it could mean being a racialized person or an immigrant and not having access to mental health care.
“The pandemic has clarified for us the distinction between social isolation and loneliness,” she says.
“There’s a recognition that being stuck at home is not good for your health and we need to support it. We just need to do better research about what it means when you do address [it]”
Alone and Apart is an ongoing Global News series tackling issues of loneliness and self-isolation, and creating long-lasting solutions to fight this epidemic within a pandemic. The series will begin Feb. 13 on GlobalNews.ca/Lifestyle.
Illustrations by Laura Whelan