For weeks health officials across the country have been urging Canadians to stay inside and practise social distancing to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Social inclusion plays a big factor on a person’s mental well-being, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Research suggests that when people don’t feel they belong socially, their mental health is often affected, stated CMHA.
“Therefore, while we’re being advised to participate in ‘social distancing’, it’s important for our mental health to remain socially connected while maintaining a physical distance,” read a release from CMHA.
This is why Canadians are now relying on social media to stay connected more than ever before, sharing texts, memes and often arranging routine video chats with friends to stave off feelings of loneliness that come with long-term isolation.
According to Facebook’s analytics department, overall messaging is up more than 50 per cent over the last month in countries that have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In those same locations, voice and video calls have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp.
Across all social media platforms, WhatsApp is experiencing the greatest gains in usage as people look to stay connected. Overall, WhatsApp has seen a 40 per cent increase in usage, according to Kantar.com — a leading data, insights and consulting company.
People are also turning to new platforms such as Zoom, a popular app among video chat users. The Zoom app is currently the top free app in the Apple App Store and new data indicates that daily usage was up more than 300 per cent compared to before the pandemic forced workers into their homes, according to MarketWatch.com.
Edwin Hodge, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Victoria said he’s already seen the sociological implications that social distancing has had on B.C. as people begin to normalize these extraordinary circumstances.
Hodge said he’s seen a change in how people approach one another physically. He states that when social distancing recommendations were put into place, people would be awkward about it, often giggling over the obscurity of the physical distance during their interaction.
Now, when you watch people walking around, they keep the social distance without even thinking about it anymore, said Hodge — it’s become normal.
“We adapt to changing conditions quickly and develop new norms. We now see it as rude or even dangerous for people to step within that two-metre space.”
Physical interactions are being warned against by both the provincial and federal governments, this has prompted a new emergence in the urgency to maintain social networks and connections through social media, according to Hodge.
“We know that we can’t go out and spend time with our friends and we know that people when we begin to isolate, issues with anxiety and depression begin to spike,” said Hodge.
“All you have to do is go on (social media) and you will see people dealing with issues (surrounding social isolation). These networks were designed for fun, but now we’re using them in a very earnest and serious way to maintain connections that we might otherwise be losing.”
While the theory is hypothetical in question, Hodge said that the world would be in a much different place without social media, stating that people living alone might be more vulnerable at this time.
“I think for a lot of people (living alone) they would shelter in place as they’ve been told before, but if something went wrong with them it would be less likely that they’d be discovered,” said Hodge.
Looking ahead, it appears as though Canadians will continue to live in social isolation for months to come. On Tuesday, March 31, the province’s top health officials said B.C. will likely remain under strict pandemic-related restrictions until at least the summer as a vaccine is still up to 18 months away.
Hodge believes that long-term social distancing may have negative repercussions.
“We can pretend that this is normal for only so long before people begin to grow anxious,” said Hodge.
“This is one of the tightropes that health authorities are aware that they’re walking.”
He states that while social distancing is having a positive effect on slowing the spread, the longer it goes on, the more frustrated and anxious people will get. He states that social science indicates when people get frustrated they start acting out in anti-social ways.
“We are intensely social beings. As a species, we need to be around each other and we need to associate with one another. These kinds of crises really test that.”