Keeping your distance is an important means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. However, it has significant side effects, especially for the elderly. The Hamburg futurologist Horst Opaschowski warns of an “epidemic of loneliness”.An important corona rule is at least one and a half meters away. Many people have moved significantly further apart. They live alone in their four walls and have little contact with other people.
“The number of people in a big city with almost no human contact is greater than you think,” says Stefan Deutschmann, head of the counseling and pastoral care department at the Hamburg Diaconal Service.
In the first phase of the corona pandemic between mid-March and mid-May, the Hamburg telephone counseling received 25 to 30 percent more calls than usual. “Many calls are an expression of deep loneliness on the part of people,” says Deutschmann.
More people are turning to telephone counseling
Nationwide, the around 100 telephone counseling centers run by the two large churches have recorded a similar increase in conversation contacts. In around 40 percent of the phone calls, the restrictions, uncertainties and changes caused by the pandemic were the main topic.
16 percent of the conversations were about uncertainty and fears, and 24 percent about being alone and loneliness, as reported by Ulrike Mai, spokeswoman for telephone counseling.
In September of this year, too, telephone counseling continued to count with 81,000 calls, more than in the same month of the previous year. At that time it was 75,000. In addition, many younger people would have reported via email (total: 3428 / September 2019: 2812) and chat (2265 / September 2019: 1546).
The Hamburg futurologist Horst Opaschowski warns of a dramatic increase in loneliness.
“The pandemic threatens to become an epidemic of loneliness. Since the” stay at home “recommendations by politicians, more and more people in Germany are living” alone at home “,” explains Opaschowski.
In a representative survey he found that the fear of loneliness is almost as common as the fear of poverty in old age. In mid-March of this year, when the lockdown began in Germany, 84 percent were of the opinion: “For many older people, contact poverty will be just as stressful as money poverty in the future.”
In an earlier survey in January 2019, only 61 percent agreed with this statement.
Stress from lack of contact with family
In a survey by the Forsa Institute last May, 80 percent of those questioned said that the lack of contact with family and friends was a particular burden for them.
The consequences of the pandemic put many people on a psychological test, the said Techniker Krankenkasse (TK)who commissioned the representative study.
However, sick leave due to mental illness has been increasing for years, said a TK spokeswoman.
In his new book “Die Semiglückliche Gesellschaft”, Opaschowski draws attention to the long-term consequences. In the future society of long life, the greatest poverty in old age will be contact poverty, he predicts.
More and more people lived alone in old age. They have significantly fewer social contacts than in previous years, and they miss work colleagues and recognition in their jobs, says Opaschowski. The boundaries between loneliness, depression and mental illness are fluid.
The Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists had already pointed out this danger in August. “Next depressions and anxiety disorders, acute and post-traumatic stress disorders can also increase alcohol and drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and psychosis, “said Chamber President Dietrich Munz.
The elderly were among the most affected groups. “For many who are 75 years of age and older, the fear of being infected often turns into fear of death and withdrawal into total isolation,” said the Chamber, referring to the practical experience of psychotherapists.
“In the end they torment themselves with the expectation that they will die alone because of Corona.”