Care for the social ills of isolation

Lockdowns are leading to upticks in problem behaviors, such as domestic abuse. Compassion more than money is needed.

AP
A new ad from the American Gaming Association is part of a campaign to urge sports bettors to wager responsibly.

As the COVID-19 shutdown of businesses goes global, governments are helping people deal with the hardship of lost jobs and wages. Yet they are discovering another need among people enduring prolonged isolation: problem behaviors that result in harm to others or themselves.

For that, money is not a solution. Compassionate care is.

Spain, for example, has restricted most gambling advertising because of a spike in online gaming among people stuck at home and either lonely, bored, or stressed.

In many countries, hotlines for reporting domestic abuse have had to increase the number of social workers.

And with China disclosing a jump in divorces after ending its coronavirus lockdown, Russia decided to suspend the registration of divorces until June 1. Russians already have one of the world’s highest divorce rates.

For many people, isolation at home combined with anxiety over COVID-19 has intensified existing personal problems, from addiction to bumpy relationships. Close to half of Americans told pollsters for the Kaiser Family Foundation that the pandemic had affected their mental health.

The inner life of the isolated billions around the world now has an outer dimension. Many religious groups, therapists, and social activists are stepping up their outreach. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is holding meetings online or over the phone. Governments, meanwhile, are only catching up with the problem.

In Britain, a few members of Parliament have asked the gambling industry to help reduce the sudden increase in online wagering following the shutdown of brick-and-mortar gaming sites. They want caps on how much money a person can bet each day, for example, and an end to inducements to risk money on off-beat contests like table tennis in the absence of mainstream sports. An estimated 9% of online bettors in Britain are considered problem gamblers. The industry has responded by promising to “monitor the amount of time and money that players spend during the pandemic lockdown.”

Perhaps the term self-isolation needs to be dropped for something less self-oriented. Most countries have the tools, such as the internet, to offer remote care and companionship for people cooped up at home and either physically alone or with someone who is abusive. The healing professions are helping people cope with fear of the virus. Others can help heal the emotions driving problem behaviors at home.

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