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How to socialize in a pandemic

June 5, 2020

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photo of Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH

Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH, Contributor

Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, with a primary research focus on pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention. During COVID-19, she has written … See Full Bio
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Doris Hondorf
June 6, 2020


Sam Prus
June 5, 2020

Hi Julia,

Thanks for posting this. I’m 45 live alone and am fortunate to work from home. I live in the city I grew up in, but find myself with only 1 local close friend and no local close family. I used to have sever social anxiety and undiagnosed PTSD that inhibited my ability to create deep relationships and I never built a social support structure in my life. I’ve since recieved therapy for that and have made a lot of progress that I don’t have social anxiety anymore and I know how to work with my PTSD.

I haven’t had a non-transactional interaction with another human being, face-to-face, in three months. I was already dealing with loneliness before the pandemic. Over the past few years, I have made effort on increasing my social support group through work, acting classes, and general socializing at my gym. In middle age, It’s difficult to create or expand my social group and friends even in the best of times. Now those options are closed for the foreseeable future.
And while my one friend and I are going to see each other in person, it took a lot of convincing.
Three months of social isolation is debilitating. There’s a reason it is used as punishment. And while it is great that people who have a local social group can learn to interact again, what pandemic options are there for people who don’t have one and need to build one?
Middle aged men in America are already facing an epidemic of loneliness and depression. Therapy is not what a lonely person, such as me, is looking for. They are just looking for a friend to do something with and talk to; this is something I am having a difficult time explaining to people. When I tell them how much I am hurting from being isolated, they tell me to see a therapist, which is very frustrating. All the therapist is going to hear me talk about is my cats and projects I’m working on. I have spoken with coworkers on the phone and online; I’ve used talk lines with therapists and counselors, but they are very thin bandages.
For people like me, further social distancing and isolation is not a very viable option for our long term mental health. No amount of therapy or talking things through will offset the damage being done by being isolated and not having the option to be around people.
There are many reasons that people won’t adhere to social distancing measures, but primarily we are wired as social animals and those needs aren’t always swayed by reason.


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