Is COVID-19 bringing people closer together?

Is COVID-19 bringing people closer together?

A new global study is looking into the state of social connectedness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, being conducted by researchers in 18 countries around the world, will examine whether social connectedness and compassion can help people cope better with the emotional stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants are being asked to fill out a 30-minute online survey immediately, three months from now, and again six months from now.

Professor Allison Kelly from the University of Waterloo is the lead Canadian researcher on the international team.

“The pandemic is taking a large toll on the mental health and well-being of people across the world,” Professor Kelly said.

“The study is looking at the emotional impact of the pandemic, and at whether compassion from and for others, and compassion for oneself, can reduce the psychological toll of the pandemic.”

While the study is yet to determine the impact of compassion on mental health, anecdotally this appears to be having a profoundly positive impact – at least in school communities.

Zane Powles, assistant head of Western Primary School in the coastal town of Grimsby, has lifted the spirits of his entire community after walking five miles a day to deliver free school lunches to needy children who have been forced to learn from home.

A growing body of research shows that a strong sense of gratitude can also help people develop a positive mindset and improve their mental wellbeing – and one NSW principal is seeing this translate into promising results at his school.

intergenerational programs focussed on social connectedness and compassion are also yielding some heart-warming results.

Students at one Queensland school are helping their elderly community through a program that connects them using the ‘face to face’ communication benefits of video conferencing. The elders have reported being happier, eating better, sleeping better, socialising more, and are less anxious and less depressed.

The latest global research is in its early stage, with the initial recruitment of participants and the first round of surveys to be completed by late May before physical distancing restrictions loosen.

“The online nature of the study means people can participate in the research fairly easily from their own home,” Professor Kelly said.

“Surveys have been translated into multiple different languages, allowing researchers to learn about how people from countries and cultures across the world are coping with the pandemic.”

The results of the work are expected to be published in academic journals sometime in 2021.

“When we focus on physical health only, we can unintentionally overlook mental health,” Professor Kelly said.

“This research is important because it will reveal the ways in which the pandemic and physical distancing measures are affecting people’s mental health, while highlighting the factors that can help people around the world better navigate the extraordinary challenges we face”.