Rants of a Therapist: Stop Using #SocialDistancing

It’s not that I don’t get the term…though it’s not super scientific (more on that below).

It’s that it’s anti-therapeutic.

Social distancing does NOT = equal social isolation. 

Unfortunately it seems like the equation some people are using is that social distancing = social isolation.  And THAT is making people sick.

Maybe not physically sick, not at first.  First it’s sad, lonely, anxious, depressed.  But the physical symptoms do come in.  It might be tired, lethargic, or a racing heart.  And eventually that could lead to a weaker immune system.

Let’s back up for a moment and look at the history of social distancing.

When I first heard the term in early March, it appeared to mean avoiding large social gatherings.  That made sense.  And then it transgressed to basically avoiding contact with all people, keeping a minimum of a 6ft distance between you and the nearest person.

Now I’m not disagreeing with that policy.  I mean, I’m a mental health therapist, not a scientist.  BUT that’s PHYSICAL DISTANCING.  It doesn’t say we can’t talk to each other, that we can smile at others and send all the good vibes we can.  And for our close friends and family who may live in the same household, or who we know have done everything they can to practice good hygiene, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hug them tighter than ever.

I’ll get into the importance human connection more in a later post, so for now I’ll just say human evolution is based on it (and I’m not just talking about reproduction.)

Now if  we dig into Google Search a little more, things get really interesting.  When I first searched for “social distancing definition” the first definition I can across was from Wikipedia! What’s more interesting is that I just did a quick search again (March 30, 2020), and there’s now 99 references and requests for updates, including a request to change the definition to physical distancing!

On March 16, 2020 Merriam-Webster.com came out with their definition: the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.

Where Merriam-Webster.com really helped was a note at the bottom that said the first known use of social distancing was in 2003.  That search led me to a great piece of research by David M. Bell and the World Health Organization on SARS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3329045/.  In their research overview, they didn’t use use social distancing as a definition. What they did use a few times was: measures to “increase social distance”.

Look, I get that #socialdistancing may sound like a cool buzz word/phrase to use and that not everyone is using in the wrong way.  However, it’s time we really start to really rise above buzz words and bumper stick quotes and actually starting thinking about the words we use.  Because it’s not just semantics.  It’s peoples’ health (mental and physical), happiness, and lives.

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For more on the links between connection and mental health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB5IX-np5fE

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