How a Chat App Can Help Relieve Loneliness During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  • A new app called Quarantine Chat may help some people who are experiencing loneliness while in isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Mental health experts say it’s important for people to stay connected during a quarantine, as well as talk to others who are in similar situations.
  • Experts say there are a number of ways to ease loneliness during isolation. They include using video conference calls instead of emails, maintaining a regular schedule, reading, listening to music, and watching a movie.

Loneliness during the COVID-19 outbreak has become a major concern as more and more people are hunkering down in their homes in isolation.

Apps such as Quarantine Chat may be able to help.

Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, two artists and long-distance friends, created the free digital voice service in 2019 to help connect people across the world.

By downloading Dial Up, an app for hosting Quarantine Chat, people are subscribing to periodic calls that randomly pair them with a chat partner who is also staying at home, whether by choice or government mandate.

“While people can still talk to their friends and family virtually, the experience of spontaneously talking to a stranger is now missing from many of our lives,” Baskin and Hawkins say on the Quarantine Chat website.

What mental health experts say

“Connectedness is important to all humans, so I think we are all at risk [of loneliness during quarantine],” said Deborah Roth Ledley, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania who has written the book “Becoming a Calm Mom.”

“When we are bored, we tend to focus on negative things in our lives,” added Nancy Molitor, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois.

“If we were feeling socially isolated pre-coronavirus, we might become more focused on this under quarantine,” Molitor told Healthline.

Perceived social isolation, according to the American Psychological Association, is linked to adverse health consequences, including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity at every stage of life.

The longer the loneliness continues, the worse its impact on overall well-being, say experts.

“Research shows that there is a link between chronic loneliness and depression,” Ledley told Healthline. “Our current situation will hopefully be short-lived.”

Who this app can help

“I think [the Quarantine Chat app] is indeed a very interesting and potentially very effective way of helping folks who are isolated, live alone, and who are away from home, cope with loneliness and the anxiety of being quarantined,” Molitor said.

“Even under quarantine, people who live with other family members at least have each other, but people who live alone might feel particularly lonely,” added Ledley.

Living alone and being lonely are not the same, but experts say the former can be a risk factor for the latter.

“I worry most about people who live alone and people who might be cognitively impaired,” Ledley said. “For example, the elderly with dementia who are living in nursing homes. They might be confused and upset by the lack of family visitors.”

“I also worry a lot about college students whose semester has been abruptly cut off. Although they are returning to their families, I am sure they will feel very lonely for the social structure they had at school,” she added.

What people in quarantine say

“Commiserating is important,” said Rachel Hunt, a digital content strategist teaching English in Spain who is currently under enforced quarantine.

“Connections to communities are going to be essential, I think, so I’m trying to build them up now,” she told Healthline.

Hunt participates in daily group chats via social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram, online communities for auxiliaries, and the local balcony culture.

“It’s relaxing and pretty nice for now, if a bit boring and isolating,” she said. “Ask me again in 2 weeks.”

So far, she hasn’t found a need to download Quarantine Chat.

“I think what I’ve learned from this is that if you seek out genuine human connection, it’s available,” she said. “But it’s hard to build those bonds and it’ll become harder as quarantine continues.”

Recent air travel, underlying respiratory conditions, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome put Canadian Nikki Saltz in a vulnerable risk category.

She is still awaiting her COVID-19 test results.

“And now, as things progress, due to my higher risk factors, I’ve decided to continue my self-isolation until we have more information, or until we turn the corner,” Saltz told Healthline. “I anticipate that might be months.”

After a week in quarantine, she said, “I feel like if this happened pre-internet, things might feel more isolated, but as it is, I could see myself being totally fine with this whole scenario for a while yet.”

“I’m not experiencing any boredom or isolation at home, but that’s probably because I’m used to working with minimal contact with other people,” said Saltz.

“Having a dog really helps, too,” she said. “He’s a great source of entertainment and laughter, and a surprisingly good conversation partner.”

Annie Biskar, former early childhood education administrator and wife to a geriatric medical internist in California’s Coachella Valley, has been under self-imposed quarantine for 3 weeks.

“I can’t believe how these times have pulled me not away from people, but toward them, even if it is not face-to-face,” she told Healthline. “Friends I haven’t spoken with in some time called to check up on me, Annie, the perpetual worrier.”

That is not to say Quarantine Chat is irrelevant technology.

“Meeting with other people that are quarantined would be so beneficial,” Biskar said. “These are such strange times, and it’s difficult to process the uncertainty.”

“At a time when we need human contact and connection the most, we are forced to be behind closed doors with not even a casual conversation with the grocery clerk to remind us where we are and what we are doing,” she said. “It could be comforting to reach out to someone and say, ‘This is crazy, right? How are you feeling?’”

Staying mentally healthy

Indeed, faces, voices, and emotional connections can all help when you’re isolated.

“During this time, the more we can replicate real life interactions, the better,” said Ledley. “We must be mindful of ways to stay socially connected even when we aren’t seeing people face-to-face.”

There are a number of ways to combat social isolation and loneliness during quarantine.

Ledley suggests:

  • FaceTiming or otherwise video chatting with friends
  • having a virtual lunch or coffee date
  • making sure that some work interactions include FaceTime and phone calls rather than just email
  • staying connected on social media

“It is also sensible to maintain your usual schedule,” said Ledley. “Get up and go to sleep as you usually would, have a shower, and get dressed before starting your workday, and eat meals at the times you usually would.”

“Keeping to a schedule and being mindful of self-care are very important all the time, but particularly in times of stress,” she added. “In making your daily schedule, I would ensure that there is some social connection.”

Ledley also says “behavioral activation” is an effective treatment for depression and suggests its principles may work for those in quarantine.

“[Behavioral activation] involves scheduling out your day with activities that provide a sense of mastery. [This includes] getting stuff done like your work/school tasks, the laundry, crossing some house projects off your to-do list, and getting things organized for your taxes,” she said.

And don’t forget your daily dose of pleasure.

Ledley notes the equal importance of experiencing fun activities, like watching a movie or show, reading, baking, doing a craft, and listening to music.

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