SARS-CoV-2 has forced us to distance ourselves. According to a review of animal studies from monkeys to mice, the prolonged absence of social interaction can not only harm mental health, but also increase the risk of mortality.
Social distancing hurts both humans and animals.
The social environment at any time in our life conditions our life experiences and also our health. This influence is not exclusive to the human being. In the animal kingdom, dozens of species share the need for social interaction to survive. In a study published in the journal Science, an international team of scientists wanted to check how health and mortality risk affect social distancing, and for this he has reviewed the scientific literature on these social factors in the well-being of others mammals, from rodents, dolphins, horses to non-human primates. (Read: Voluntary isolation could be the best response to COVID-19 for indigenous peoples)
“Humans are social animals, so to understand how our social environments affect our health, we can look at other animals with whom we share an evolutionary history,” he explains to SINC. Noah Snyder-Mackler, main author of the work and researcher at the Center for Evolution and Medicine of the Arizona State University of the USA.
The researchers decided to focus on the animal studies because the current human society has introduced other social factors that influence health, such as access to medical care and food care. “These variables actually make it difficult to identify whether and how social adversity causes poor health,” adds the scientist.
How Isolation Affects Health
The study reveals that social relationships and interactions can alter animal physiology, disease risk and life expectancy, and confirms that social isolation is associated with a increased risk of mortality, as had already been shown in human studies. In fact, this was one of the reasons that pushed the UK to create a strategy against loneliness in 2018.
“We knew that one of the strongest indicators of all causes of mortality, even above drinking and smoking, is being socially isolated,” Snyder-Mackler corroborates. With his study, the researcher shows that this link between social isolation and mortality is found throughout the animal kingdom in a “surprisingly” similar way.
“Animals that are less socially connected tend to live shorter lives across the board,” says the American scientist, who along with his colleagues tried to understand why. “One hypothesis is that being socially connected means having a more predictable and less stressful environment. And we know that stress can negatively affect the immune system, “emphasizes SINC.
These results coincide with the current measures of social distancing to prevent the spread of infections by SARS-CoV-2. “I do not want to deduce that this social distancing will drastically affect health and survival, but it is certainly affecting mental health,” says the scientist.
However, the researchers consider that, in this case, the negative effects of quarantine will be outweighed by the positive impact of reducing infections. The team also recommends staying connected.
“Although you cannot be physically with friends and family, you can do it virtually. Call your grandparents, make video calls to your family, send messages to your friends. These connections are deeply embedded in our evolutionary history and can protect us from the negative health consequences of uncertain times, “concludes Snyder-Mackler.