2020 Was As Bad A Smoking On Your Health

"The psychological effects of loneliness are a health risk comparable with obesity or smoking."

2020 Was As Bad A Smoking On Your Health

Image: Les Films Velvet

2020 has become a vicious meme. But before you laugh it completely off, psychologists are urging us to consider – and counter – some of its impacts on our mental health.

In between bushfires, COVID-19, a recession and the theatrical release of Cats, it’s been a year filled with tragedies. While we might not be able to kiss a stranger at midnight on the 31st – and the prospect of having all your family over for Christmas isn’t so tempting with the looming threat of The Bat Kiss, too – 2021 will come as a huge relief for most of us.

But as this New York Times opinion piece examines, we’re not out of the woods yet, and the full impact of 2020 won’t be felt until much further down the track.

Drew Holden, a public affairs consultant and freelance journalist, is concerned about the social impact of lockdowns, particularly as parts of Europe and the United States look to renew lockdown orders once again over the holiday season and into the new year. It’s not just the economic or social impact of lockdowns that we should be worried about, but the health impacts of lockdown – above and beyond coronavirus.

“Extended social isolation can have serious health implications, from heart disease and dementia to depression and death. During the pandemic, our diets and lifestyles got worse, increasing our vulnerability to the very disease that isolation is meant to help address.”

“Our mental health suffers, too. The psychological effects of loneliness are a health risk comparable with obesity or smoking. Anxiety and depression have spiked since lockdown orders went into effect…To be sure, the increasing prevalence of mental health challenges is not all due to the lockdowns. The attendant health risks of a global pandemic to an individual or their loved ones must certainly be a contributing factor, too. But our understanding that social isolation can seriously damage physical and mental health predates the pandemic.”

“Some researchers worry that the social isolation has inflicted damage to mental health that will outlast even the worst of the pandemic. We may not have a full accounting of the consequences for years to come.”

It’s confronting just how quickly we’ve come to adapt to a COVID-19 world – although we’ve still got a long way to go, and we haven’t seen the last of it either.

One area of human life that’s changed dramatically is how we go about romance. The social isolation that lockdown has imposed on us has forced many people to become more creative about how they seek human contact. One of the most enduring trends of 2020 has been people using the ‘passport’ feature of dating apps such as Bumble or Hinge to virtually travel around the world, checking out the dating pools of different cities and chatting with people you might never meet in real life (or have no intention of meeting).

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Social isolation was a problem even before COVID-19, with one of the great ironies of our digital world being that we’ve never been more interconnected, yet also never been more lonely. The pandemic has only sharpened these problems that already existed, with apps like OnlyFans and Houseparty perfectly poised to take advantage of lockdown. To use a medical pun, they’re all symptoms of a broader issue.

It’s not all bad news. Some adaptations 2020 has precipitated have arguably been beneficial, with gyms becoming the new nightclubs and men using lockdown as an opportunity to improve their physical and mental health.

Feeling down? Read how even simple changes can have a big difference when it comes to your mental health.

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