Fighting loneliness during Coronavirus
In early 2018, a new and surprising appointment was announced in the UK: the Minister for Loneliness. The new government office was designed to deal with millions of Britons who had declared themselves lonely. The British Red Cross called loneliness the "hidden plague", and the then-British Prime Minister Theresa May called loneliness "the sad reality of modern life".
Israel is considered a country filled with good, warm-natured people, vibrant familial and social circles, and a willingness to help others in times of distress. But the Corona crisis and the imperative of "social distancing" have raised the threat of loneliness in our warm-natured country as well.
We first became acquainted with the horrific phenomenon of the mortality of childless people - the elderly and the lonely who died in their homes without anyone knowing about it. With the intensification of the first Corona wave and especially the second wave, in the Media and in general public discourse began discussions of the loneliness of the patients in the Corona wards. Alongside the issue of visits to Corona patients, some reports have appeared regarding angry families protesting about the medical treatment their loved ones are receiving. In fact in the vast majority of cases, the anger of the families at the medical staff is also due to the loneliness imposed on the Corona patients which has raised tension among family members.
The general public tends to assume that modern medicine treats the human body as a very sophisticated instrument, but lacks any connection with the human psyche. In fact, the connection between a person's mental health and the health of the body has been researched and proven in countless medical studies. A relaxed and calming environment, helps a lot in the recovery process overcoming many illnesses.
In the founding remarks of Laniado Hospital, the founder of the hospital, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam of Holy and Blessed Memory, known as the Rebbe of Sanz, ordered: "Take great care at every opportunity to alleviate the pain and suffering of the patients, improve their mood and psyche as it is an important aid to overcoming their illness and healing as explained in the Shulchan Aruch."
The professional medical discourse on morbidity factors, staging data and other indices, cannot be detached from the discourse on the mental landscape and mood of the patient. Over the past eight months, we have treated in the Corona Intensive Care Unit at Laniado dozens of difficult and complex Corona cases, alongside hundreds of patients passing through the Corona Department. Throughout this period, we have seen the positive impact of the admittance of family members and volunteers into the wards. Anyone who has not visited the Corona wards, cannot fathom the loneliness of the patient and the immense stress under which he finds himself.
Every patient who comes to the Corona Intensive Care unit and then goes on to the Corona Department experiences a sense of disconnection, which is often not just a feeling, but reality. He is cut off from his family, he is cut off from the outside world. The medical and nursing staff do their best to provide warmth, empathy and the human touch. However, staff cannot be a substitute for family, friends and volunteers. The men and women of the staff are busy most of the time in urgent work of saving lives while being protectively covered from head to toe. Apart from the disconnection, the patient exists in complete uncertainty which further undermines his mental stability. He also suffers from severe exhaustion affecting everything from his ability to eat to making telephone contact with his family.
Here is the great importance in cooperation with civilian organisations; they can enable patients to meet with as many outsiders as possible who will encourage their spirit and help them to mentally overcome the disease. The impact of the arrival of family members and volunteers to visit Corona patients, cannot be simply reduced to a statement of creating a "good feeling" for the patient. The effect is far beyond just this. In fact, the entrance of any individual other than the medical staff (with full and meticulous protection of course), brings in positive energies for the patients and the entire ward.
Now that the Second Wave of Corona morbidity is almost behind us and we have our finger on the pulse ahead of the usual winter morbidity and a recurrence of Corona morbidity, God forbid, this is a golden opportunity for all healthcare professionals to produce a dedicated policy regarding the mental health of patients in Corona wards. There is no doubt that mental well-being for patients will help them cope better with the deceptive Corona virus.
* This article was originally published in Yediot Acharonot, Israel’s leading newspaper.