'Social Distancing' as a measure of battling the coronavirus has been applied in the pandemic period. It seems effective in the short run, but it is conflicting with the human value and may lead to secluded individuals. The term 'social distancing' has been used instead of physical distancing which is a matter of reconsideration. Was it propagated consciously or unconsciously? What can be its behavioral and psychological consequences in a new world order where human nature has been challenged by imposing this tool? Considering the stated issues, we need to critically approach the human psychosocial attributes in the changing time and their long-run implications.
In this pandemic period, 'social distancing' has been largely effective as a tool. It has been applied to make people socially segregated to stem spread of the virus. The term was initially coined by Edward Hall, a cultural anthropologist in 1963 to indicate the avoidance of human proximities. In social interactions, among the communities, people automatically and consciously maintain a certain distance for their existential purpose. American sociologist Eric Kleinberg has termed it as a new social pain. He has also expressed his concern over sufferings related to isolation and the cost of social distancing.
The question naturally comes: why a country like America has been affected severely and the number of casualties is the highest despite its advanced and developed healthcare system. In South Asian countries despite its large population and close proximity, the casualty is comparatively low. Is it because of the social connectivity and closely-knit common people? Previous experiences and data about pandemics and some of the evidences show that the social isolation and panic reduce the human immune system. As a social being, everybody needs continuous social interactions for their existential purpose. But the coronavirus and its containment initiatives pose a challenge for interpersonal and community interactions. As a result, the absence of these connections is leading to a stressful state of loneliness, depression, and some other physical and mental disorders. It may produce some chronic psychosocial challenges individually and collectively in the coming days. Moreover, we need to focus critically on the conscious capitalistic approach of influencing the psychology of the masses by disregarding eternal human values.
The 21st century is considered as the era of the emerging pandemic of mental illnesses. The unexpected emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has put forth several questions about its deeper impacts on our lives and the consequences. After the outbreak of Covid-19, behavioral, clinical and state interventions were undertaken so that the spread of the virus could be prevented. These unprecedented interventions through social distancing, travel restrictions and use of masks were effective to some extent but were equally challenging to execute as people were not habituated and it went against their innate nature.
Slavoj Zizek, a leading Marxist philosopher, thinks that this crisis will bring global solidarity through trust in people and science. Moreover, he has predicted that because of this pandemic, a new economically-marginalized migrant class will emerge which he has termed as a "geo-social class". Consequently, the greater portion of the informal sector of the emerging economy will be more economically and socially vulnerable as well as excluded.
Mandatory mass quarantine without proper logistic support and arrangement may produce mental sufferings and the feeling of loneliness. Apart from physical sufferings, the Covid restrictions may lead to mass hysteria, anxiety and distress. Therefore, the sense of getting cornered and loss of control may induce a sense of insecurity and meaninglessness of life. This sense of meaninglessness should be addressed by adopting measures for ensure mental and social wellbeing and creating a congenial public sphere and social connectivity.
In different phases of the pandemic, the overflow of information was to some extent misleading and was like systematic chaos. One of the major challenges was that there was no central authority responsible for disseminating reliable information. Therefore, the flow of information and its diverse source was challenging to receive and implement the guidelines at the initial stage. Thus, this systematic chaos accelerated the panic, and the situation was challenging gradually.
The psychosocial impact of social distancing needs to be considered and reviewed from diverse perspectives. As it is an unprecedented situation in the human history, assessing the psychological impact of this social isolation is challenging but inevitable. To understand the magnitude of the pandemic and the number of people affected by restrictions and the short-run and long-run consequences, it is mandatory to conduct a comprehensive study so that the essential policy can be adopted.
The stigma associated with the pandemic, cultural and religious propaganda related to this disease, and governmental policy might have influenced the international trade and finance and interrelation among the countries. So, psychological and social preparedness should get the highest global priority. All the stakeholders must consider the psychosocial aspect of this pandemic to assess fatalities and long-run consequences by reducing the gap between policymakers and ground-level operators.
Some major challenges must be addressed in the days to come. Because of the Covid situation, the small enterprises and informal sector of the economy have been devastated, and a large number of lower and lower-middle-class people have lost their jobs and last resort. This financial distress has also a huge psychological impact. Further, after the disaster, infected people face more severe psychological crises and secondary trauma. To minimise the risk, in the epidemic situation, one-to-one psychological counseling service is highly required.
Implementation of social distancing measures has changed the web of human relationships. From the human existential point of view, the absence of deep meaningful connections among the people and society leads to stressful physical and mental anxiety. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has forecasted some negative consequences of Covid-19 like fear and anxiety about a disease can be a cause of a strong emotional disorder in children and adults. They also have suggested that coping with this stress will make the people and community stronger, though it is challenging.
Several initiatives like forced quarantine and lockdowns may produce some major psychological issues like acute panic, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run. Besides, it has also been observed that an 'infodemic' has spread on different platforms of social media creating confusion and panic. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the panic in social media as well as in other media has been characterised by negatively skewed misleading information even faster than the coronavirus itself. Some social problems like racism, stigmatization and xenophobia against some communities are observed. Likewise, frontline healthcare workers are also at higher risk despite getting some high incentives.
Most of the young learners are learning online in a challenging environment through Zoom and other online platforms. A significant level of behavioural changes has been observed among these young learners. In the human communication process, the largest part is non-verbal communication. Because of online communication, a large number of communication hassles are there. As a result, inter and intra relations are severely affected. This lack of proper communication is yielding some mental and social conflicts.
Some institutional initiatives are needed to aid recovery from this mental trauma and they should address the psychosocial challenges in the days ahead. We need to reconsider it as a tool to come out of this collective complex state of psychology as it is contrasting with human eternal values. Therefore, encouraging self-isolation and voluntary quarantine through an altruistic approach and mass communication can be a reasonable alternative to minimising the long-term complications. Considering the complexity of Covid-19, some pragmatic initiatives are needed for mental and spiritual wellbeing.