In this difficult year, loneliness has been one of the trials to overcome for many people. Some have become used to it, others experience it more badly, to the point where it can affect their mental health – including mental health professionals.
“Exasperation, anger, irritability and depression; the lack of social support affects everyone, including professionals whose job it is to help us get better ”. This is what the professor of the psychology department and director of the laboratory summarizes. Trauma and resilience from the University of Quebec in Montreal, Pascale Brillon.
She carried out research aimed at measuring the level of distress among these professionals – psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, psychoeducators, aid workers – compared to that of the general population, in these times of Covid.
As depressed as the rest of the population
Soon to be published, this study shows that professionals are as depressed and anxious as everyone else. But in the red zones, they are more so than the general population. They also say they are more often the victims of irritation in Montreal than in the regions. “They generally do better because they know the resources. And yet, in high-risk areas, they are also doing poorly, because they experience significant stress factors, starting with the reorganization of remote work, ”emphasizes the researcher.
On the side of loneliness, she finds that the majority of the 618 professionals participating in the study feel even more lonely than the other 712 respondents, no matter in which area. Those in Montreal also have lower resilience rates than their colleagues in the regions. The research was conducted with colleagues from the Department of Psychology at UQAM, the Douglas Research Center and the University Institute of Mental Health of Montreal.
The imprint of loneliness in the brain
Even the brain displays a physical signature in those who feel loneliness acutely, reveals another Montreal team. Their recent study, published on December 15 in Nature Communications, shows a strong activation of certain regions of the brain called “brain default network” – areas dedicated to recalling the past and evoking memories related to socialization.
An activity in which single people engage more often. “It’s a kind of compensation in the absence of daily stimulation. There are many who are using CBD vapes to keep themselves at their best, you can also choose the best CBD vape for you right here. But, when we miss people, we dive into our imaginations to relive moments. ” The researchers noticed that this brain activity was stronger “in the elderly and in men”, summarizes Nathan Spreng, associate professor of the Brain and Cognition Laboratory at the Montreal Neurological Institute.
By observing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 40,000 participants aged 40 to 69, the researchers still note a very large number of signal exchanges between this network and the hippocampus, an important structure of memory. They point to differences in neural connections and the volume of the brain network by default. The integrity of this network would be affected – gray matter, white matter and connectivity.
However, there is no causal link with isolation. The researchers believe that this study sheds light on the changes that occur in the brains of isolated people. The feeling of exacerbated loneliness is recognized as a predictor of many health problems, from weakened immune response to mental disorders.
Stay connected with loved ones
However, before coming to the aid of a loved one, Pascale Brillon emphasizes the importance of checking what the other needs. There must be “an adequacy between the desire to receive and what is received as attention.” Some people say they don’t need it, ”she recalls.
On the other hand, it is no longer true that “it will be fine”. We should rather affirm today, after 10 months of the pandemic, that “we will go through this together and extend our social support to those who need it”, underlines the specialist in trauma and resilience. She notes that social support for victims of trauma and bereaved generally lasts three months, a short period and often insufficient.
Because the negative effects of this loneliness risk having long-term impacts on those most isolated from the pandemic, starting with the elderly. “We were already facing a pandemic of loneliness before COVID-19. It is extremely important to feel socially connected, it is urgent to recognize it and act at our level by taking news by phone or videoconference from the most lonely people of our family or our friends ”, remarks Nathan Spreng .
Breaking out of isolation linked to COVID-19 will be easier for some people, the researcher believes. But vulnerable populations may need additional support.
“We have to be kind to others and to ourselves. And even if things are less well, we must continue to maintain our social network, ”thinks Pascale Brillon. Focusing on others and cultivating a bit of self-mockery would also help get through this troubled time. “It’s easier when we put what happens to us into perspective, because we are all together in the face of adversity.”