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Buckeye Health Plan Addresses Social Isolation and Loneliness During COVID-19 Outbreak

Date: 04/21/20

As cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) increase across Ohio, the Ohio Department of Health, under the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, issued a “stay at home order.” This order causes many Ohioans to consider the new realities of living indoors and observing social distancing. This can cause many to feel lonely and isolated. But, social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.

Buckeye Health Plan encourages all community members to know the signs of loneliness and social isolation, in themselves and others, and learn ways to cope during this challenging time.

Nearly half of all Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone.1 A sense of loneliness can effect anyone at any time, any age. During the COVID-19 emergency, families may be impacted:

  • In children and teens, social skills are first developed at school so missing a lot of school can cause loneliness.
  • For adults, unemployment can eliminate the opportunity for social interaction and relationships often developed at work.
  • For the elderly, it is more common for the homebound, which is many of this segment of the population at this time.

Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health. “Studies have suggested that social isolation increases mortality in older adults, and illnesses and conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis and impaired mobility are all linked to it,” said Laura Paynter, Director of Behavioral Health at Buckeye Health Plan. “Depression, stress, and anxiety are some of the side effects that can impact overall health.” One study equated the health risks of prolonged isolation with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.2 Additional research shows that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.3

 It's important to understand the signs and take steps to help those struggling.

Signs that a person may be socially isolated:2

  • Deep boredom, general lack of interest and withdrawal
  • Losing interest in personal hygiene
  • Poor eating and nutrition
  • Significant disrepair, clutter and hoarding at home

Buckeye is encouraging the community to take action if they or a family member is struggling with social isolation during the COVID-19 emergency, ensuring they understand they are not alone and there are resources available to help. While abiding by the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, refraining from public places and gatherings, there are ways you can stay connected and avoid social isolation.

  • Share joy. Post positive messages on social media. Like and comment on a friend's post and show your appreciation.
  • Chat. Send a group text to your friends.
  • Connect. When you can’t visit family and friends, be sure to call, text or video chat with them often.
  • Have fun. Use FaceTime or Skype to host a virtual party with friends.
  • Try something new. Start a hobby. Learn a musical instrument or try a new dance move. Create a video of yourself in action and post it on social media to share with your friends.
  • Make a date. Form an online book club or play online games with others.
  • Cook. Make healthy dinners and share recipes and photos on social media
  • Exercise.  Find an online yoga, spinning or exercise class. Monitor your progress and report it on social media to inspire others.

“Buckeye supports our members dealing with the realities of being physically isolated,” said Paynter. “ We offer support services and access to resources to improve their wellbeing during the COVID-19 emergency.”

Buckeye offers a free online tool called Buckeye Community Connect that enables hospitals, social workers, healthcare providers, care coordinators and community members to quickly and easily find free or low-cost resources and services available in their area. With a simple ZIP code search, the platform links visitors to thousands of organizations that provide help with food, housing, transportation, medical care, legal services, child care and more. Visit to learn more.

Buckeye offers a behavioral health crisis line to support members' emotional needs during this time. Call 1-866-246-4358 and press * to be connected to a behavioral health specialist.

To ensure that all of our members have access to care, Buckeye is working with healthcare providers to increase the scope and scale of telehealth services. Through smart phones and laptops, patients can meet with their doctor online and avoid exposure to other people in clinical settings.