BACKGROUND: The imperative for physical distancing (mostly referred to as social distancing) during COVID-19 pandemic may deteriorate physical and mental health . We aimed at summarising the strength of evidence in the published literature on the association of physical and mental health with social connection via social isolation, living alone and loneliness .
METHODS: We conducted a systematic search in April 2020 to identify meta-analyses using the Medline, PsycINFO and Web of Science databases . The search strategy included terms of social isolation, loneliness, living alone and meta-analysis . Eligible meta-analyses needed to report any sort of association between an indicator of social connection and any physical or mental health outcome . The findings were summarised in a narrative synthesis .
RESULTS: Twenty-five meta-analyses met our criteria, of which 10 focused on physical health and 15 on mental health outcomes . The results suggest that lack of social connection is associated with chronic physical symptoms, frailty, coronary heart disease, malnutrition, hospital readmission, reduced vaccine uptake, early mortality, depression, social anxiety, psychosis, cognitive impairment in later life and suicidal ideation.
CONCLUSIONS: The existing evidence clearly indicates that social connection is associated with a range of poor physical and mental health outcomes . A potential negative impact on these outcomes needs to be considered in future decisions on physical distancing measures.
MeSH: COVID-19, prevention & control, psychology, Humans, Mental Health, Pandemics, Physical Distancing
Index: health & safety, health policy, mental health, public health, risk management