Opinion: In This Pandemic, What Can We Do to Preserve Our Mental Health?

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Today marks Day 61 of my self-quarantine and physical isolation efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Greater Los Angeles.

Today is also the date on which Los Angeles County’s “Safer at Home” order was last set to expire.

The May 15th expiration was never meant to be a date for a flip-of-a-switch back to normality, but rather a goal post for ascertaining how the county and cities within it plan to manage—not eradicate—coronavirus infections and to establish guidelines for moving forward with a new way of life. It “was crisis management mode, focused on saving as many lives as possible.”

During these last 60 days it was imperative for everyone except essential workers to stay home, to maintain physical isolation from individuals outside of your household, and to practice social distancing in public places while wearing personal protective equipment when tending to essential tasks such as buying groceries.

Businesses were forced to close, and people lost their jobs. Many will never recover from this. Many are now set back months if not years as a result of these 60 days. I feel bad for my friends who are not U.S. citizens and/or who are gig workers/freelancers—many of them are ineligible for much of the aid that has been made available, even though many of them pay taxes. I’ve researched and shared dozens of financial assistance programs, and while a few of them have received some relief, it’s just not enough.

A few days ago, the “Safer at Home” order was replaced with a new order branded “Safer LA,” which has no end date in sight—it shall remain in effect indefinitely (maybe officially ending in mid 2021, after the forecasted second wave of coronavirus in Fall/Winter).

The order instructs households to 1) self-quarantine with the exception of essential travel or approved outdoor activities (e.g., beaches, parks, and trails have opened for limited activities and retail stores will allow curbside pick-up if certain safety requirements are met), 2) not gather with anyone who is not a part of your household, 3) practice social distancing in public, and 4) wear face coverings or mask.

These are necessary measures to slow the rate of new infections and to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. A family may be able to make the adjustments to their lifestyle to find comfort and structure in their limited social interactions outside of that immediate household.

Why the Silence on Single Adults Living Alone?

But what about single adults who live alone? Los Angeles County officials have been quite silent on recommendations for this segment of the population.

Dae Bogan


A single adult who lives alone and strictly follows the “Safer LA” orders eventually will experience mental solitary confinement from existing inside an invisible bubble. This, potentially coupled with other stressors such as the loss of work, reduced income, and increased anxiety due to the unknown nature of an indefinite order, can quickly pose a threat that Zoom happy hours, meditation, and solo hikes will not mitigate.

I want to know what plans the county has made for the imminent decline in mental health and increase in suicides that will result from mental solidarity confinement. Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles have announced detailed and nuanced plans regarding the reopening of public places, but two factors that directly impact the rate of suicide are the lack of social interaction and the lack of a sense of community.

What does our local government believe is a reasonable duration of time for an individual to experience life in a perpetual state of loneliness?

While a single person can be out in public—beach, trail, park—doing these things alone will eventually wear thin. For individuals for whom that kind of state of existence will not be enough and who will succumb to the depression that manifests from that state of existence, I want to know what the plans are to deal with that.

Surely, in balancing the needs of public health with the decline of individual mental health, they’ve had to factor in suicides. I want to know the projections. How many people have they projected to die by suicide (they’ve projected deaths by coronavirus down to an exact number on specific dates)? How do they balance these necessary deaths with the efforts to “save lives”? Will the bodies of the deceased by suicide be exposed to infected bodies in the same morgues and will that prevent families from retrieving the bodies of loved ones to be brought home for funerals? What’s the plan?

Some cities such as West Hollywood have offered online resources and / or pamphlets, but for some deeply depressed individuals, “information’”alone is not enough. Maybe the county does not have a plan to address the decline in mental health and increase in suicides other than a few leaflets about optimism and recommendations to call someone when you’re feeling depressed.

A sort of “here’s some info, good luck!” 🤷🏾‍♂‍

Let’s Redefine a “Household”

So maybe we should reconsider how we define a household. Traditional households include individuals who venture out into public every day working essential jobs and the nature of a household is engaging in activities in public—that is, practicing social distancing as a unit from other household groups.

When considering “what is a household,” we can find some encouraging remarks from the powers that be.

In his statement on May 7, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti alluded to the idea of a “household-plus” standard. The idea that we should form a tight knit group with whom to engage for the foreseeable future.

He said, “We encourage people to have a group of people that they know — maybe everybody has been tested — and you stay kind of with that, now slightly bigger, but regular group…So it’s a household-plus.”

Dr. Deborah L. Birx

Garcetti’s recommendation echoes that of Dr. Deborah Birx, a top official on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who in April suggested forming these kinds of groups, but warned, “You don’t want it to get too big…about 10 people or less. Beyond that, the risk is an issue.” She added, “This is a slightly expanded approach to social distancing that is tolerable and may be what saves us.”

Earlier this week I launched a poll to gauge sentiment surrounding social interaction among those in my Facebook online community. The poll also served to measure fear and anxiety in people regarding how to move forward in their lives. (Click here to see it. )

The answers scored from 1 to 7 with statement 1 representing no fear/anxiety (“I have not willingly changed anything about my lifestyle. Where possible, I still engage in social interaction as if COVID-19 does not exist.”) and statement 7 representing extreme fear/anxiety (“I am staying isolated until there is a vaccine that I can receive to prevent me from ever contracting coronavirus.”)
There were few 1’s and 7’s.

There are people who’ve not changed anything about their lifestyle by choice and there are people who intend to remain isolated until there is a vaccine. There have been and will continue to be people at both extremes. Neither extreme is a realistic way of existing in a COVID-19 world. Most of us will navigate society somewhere in the middle 3 to 5 with varying degrees of risk tolerance and risk reduction behaviors.

My poll measured some fear/anxiety at statement 3 (“I will engage regularly with a limited close social circle and when possible practice reasonable risk reduction behaviors in public places such as social distancing and wearing masks/face coverings”) and moderate fear/anxiety at statement 4 (“I intend to strictly obey the orders as laid out and modified from time to time by my local elected officials and public health professionals.”).

Personally, I feel that following the orders of my locality is the best option since the civic and healthcare professionals take into account the conditions of the environment in which I actually live and to which I am exposed and the ways in which COVID-19 is being managed in this jurisdiction as opposed to relying on generalized state, federal, or global news/statistics.

Too much interaction can be dangerous to our physical health and too little interaction can be dangerous to our mental health. The balance is risk reduction and managing your level of exposure while reacting to the guidelines as put forward by the professionals who are studying the situation better than I am.

So, taking all of this into account, I feel that forming a “household-plus” squad and setting rules—my friends and I have already began discussing COVID-19 testing and a commitment to one another to alert everyone of possible exposure at work, home, or public interactions—is the most practical way to slowly move along with the county from “Safer at Home” crisis management to “Safer LA” risk reduction.

Creating Your Own “Quaranteam”

If you are a single adult who may eventually exceed your limitation on allowing your mental health to deteriorate while the public health improves, here’s a tip for forming your “quaranteam”:

–You’ll need people who are trustworthy, so picking people you like just because they’re fun at parties might not be a useful metric when picking your group members. This is because you may enjoy their company in those limited party atmospheres but may not find that there is a deeper more meaningful connection beyond that. That could prompt you to seek out those connections elsewhere and break the bubble that you’ve created with that squad while increasing the risk of exposure to coronavirus.

–While it is not feasible to move in together, it is important to treat your social life as a unit—like a quarantined household. Maybe someone hosts a movie night. Maybe someone else houses a game night. Maybe your small group goes for a hike at a less busy trail outside the city where it is easy to socially distance from other squads (so, Runyon Canyon is cancelled, lol). And we can forget about large apartment or house parties (although they’ve been occurring in Los Angeles and across the country).

In a word, I recommend following all guidelines in the orders regarding how households should behave, but with Mayor Garcetti’s “household-plus”  modification.

We are in this for the long haul. Los Angeles will not be fully open until there is a vaccine, which will be mid 2021 if we’re lucky.

Most of us have done our parts during the 60-day crisis management phase and will continue to do our part during these ongoing society adjustment phases. But I don’t want to get a call that I lost a friend to suicide because I couldn’t come over one day for Taco Tuesday. That is not helping public health.


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Randy
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Randy

Thank you for this. I’ve been pretty much living this way, over the last 2 months. I’ve mostly been in isolation, but I’ve also seen 4 friends outside the house, on a very limited basis (mostly hanging in the front yard). We haven’t committed to the rules you stated, but establishing those is important. And I completely agree with you, that we need social interaction for our mental health. One thing, however: judgment. I’m afraid to “check in” anywhere, including going out for a run where I don’t wear a mask, but have one in my pocket. I run on… Read more »

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest

This is brilliant! Dae Bogan sounds like a very intelligent person who has great insight and understanding about society and how and why events affect Society. I would love to sit and talk with him for and hour.

hifi5000
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hifi5000

People who live alone have definitely been left out of the thinking for protecting residents from the COVID-19 virus.The “squad” idea is a good one,as long as all members follow the rules set forth and are sincere in protecting one another.It fits perfectly the West Hollywood crowd and should be looked at in other areas where like-minded residents can do the same.

Dae Bogan
Guest

Thank you for reading. My quaranteam got together on Zoom and talked about risk factors, our intended social activities, our concerns regarding contact with individuals outside of our quaranteam (including exposure at the workplace), and what to do if knowingly exposed. We then agreed on a set of rules for the group as follows: 1. Get tested regularly for coronavirus or antibodies. (Insurance may cover antibodies test and the City of Los Angeles has made the coronavirus test free.) 2. Limit engagement with people outside the quaranteam (individuals who know for sure that they will be in physical contact with… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

Fantastic article – thank you for taking the time to share this. Because of the physical threat of COVID-19 we have needed to create urgent guidelines to protect ourselves, but now that we have laid many of those out, we now need to consider the emotional threat. There is an entire second layer of trauma occurring beyond the pandemic that comes from the isolation we are experiencing, which does not allow us to be physically comforted during tremendous loss – a true human need. Your concept of a “quaranteam” is terrific – and essential.

Dae Bogan
Guest

Yes! We do not immediately think about the trauma layer. Because the level of mental resilience varies greatly from one person to the next, and fluctuates over time, it is hard to set a citywide standard for protecting mental health. The common denominator is to call a suicide hotline. This works for some, but not all.

Joshua88
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Joshua88

This week I heard a doctor discuss suicide in the context of numbers.
Suicide reports lag a couple of months, so it is too early to tell.

Good idea for you to publish this article.

Dad Bogan
Guest

Thanks for your comment. I am oddly too close to the numbers because my stepfather is a mortician and owns a funeral home. We see that suicides have increased in his city and can extrapolate that a city is populated as Los Angeles would have a higher count.

Dae Bogan
Guest

Thanks for your comment. I am oddly too close to the numbers because my stepfather is a mortician and owns a funeral home. We see that suicides have increased in his city and can extrapolate that a city is populated as Los Angeles would have a higher count.