Opinion: Humankind has never experienced a loss of fellowship like this before

Sue Hessel is worried about the long-term effects of isolation.

Sue Hessel is worried about the long-term effects of isolation. - Credit: Archant

Fear of the stranger: The effects of self isolation will no doubt be studied by behavioural psychologists for years to come, but already we experience a disquiet, an eeriness, an oddness in the air.

Haslemere Road is normally a friendly, benign road – with its nursery at one end and Coleridge school at the other, each morning sees it brought to life with the chatter of children, babies and trundling pushchairs.

Now it is muted or silent.

As strangers come towards each other they hurriedly cross the street, often wrapped in a scarf or a mask, few make eye contact, smile, or say hello.

Such a change – in less than four weeks.

I notice particularly when out with Jesse, our 20 month old grandson – he hasn’t seen a playmate for a month Any child coming towards us is hurriedly pulled away. And I wonder what that is doing to him.

Though our Mutual Aid WhatsApp pings regularly with requests and willing neighbours, offering countless kindnesses – there is also a dark side to the lockdown. How will its effects be borne by those struggling with mental isolation?

Most Read

Humanity has never experienced loss of fellowship like this before. Even in the war there would have been singalongs in air raid shelters. The doors of the church, and other havens of worship would have been open. The stranger would have been offered comfort in the midst of others. But with this coronavirus policy, there are no kisses, no hugs, no hold of the hand, only the cold of non-contact – even at death.

We are in loss and we cannot show our love. What will that do to the process of grief?

Self isolation may well haunt us more than we realise, especially if it goes on for months.

Care homes will collapse without support. My severely autistic sister lives in a home with five carers off sick and one self-isolating. Imagine the stress of looking after high energy autistic young men who can’t go out for weeks on end.

Whilst the service sector courageously takes risks in which the stakes of infection could not be higher for themselves or their families, they too are at danger of mental trauma. As are young families, now facing loss of livelihood. We are risking our economy and our sanity in so many ways.

We are not in the same boat – we are in different ones. Hidden behind the silence of their walls, many family carers feel under house arrest, not daring to go out. Those in cramped living conditions yearn for peace. Men who love football and the pub will feel like caged bears. Where there is abuse, homes have become prisons. At best they have become places of work, without boundary.

Yet paradoxically we could make this spring a time of healing.

How about we all just say ‘hello’ and smile at each other as we socially distance? Only the friendliness of the neighbour and the generosity of our communities will get us through this. Fear of the stranger will destroy our humanity.

• Sue Hessel is a psychotherapeutic counsellor and teacher, and runs the Crouch End Carers Coffee Morning Group at Abide church hall.