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How to Support a Loved One Affected by Coronavirus

Person looking out window during quarantine

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Stringer / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • It can be difficult to know how to help a loved one with coronavirus when you are unable to visit them or be physically close by.
  • There are ways that you can help someone with coronavirus without putting yourself at risk. Tasks that can be done without you having to go in the house (such as dropping off groceries or taking their dog for a walk) are a good place to start.
  • If your loved one also has a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, they might be even more vulnerable to the effects of social isolation. Reaching out to them and finding ways to stay connected can help them stay well mentally while they heal physically.

Do you know someone affected by coronavirus and are you wondering how best to support them during this time? Perhaps this person isn't answering the phone or you know that they are struggling. While you obviously can't physically be there for someone who is quarantined or currently infected with coronavirus, you surely still feel concerned and aren't sure how to help.

We're here to tell you that your worries are completely valid, especially during this stressful time when social distancing and self-quarantine are quickly becoming a new normal. In a 2012 study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry about the impact of SARS on mental health, it was found that being quarantined increased the odds of experiencing depressive symptoms three years later.

In addition, those with a pre-existing health problem such as an anxiety disorder were shown to be at greater risk for negative psychological outcomes of self-quarantine. Specifically, not having a normal routine and lack of physical and social contact with others evidently led to feelings of isolation, frustration, and boredom.

For these reasons, the best thing you can do is to think outside the box about how to offer your support from a distance. Below are some ideas of ways to help someone living with coronavirus (or actively avoiding it) while staying safe yourself.

Make a Call

Perhaps the easiest first step is to reach out directly and make a phone call to see how the person is doing. You may wish to stay in contact more frequently than usual, to keep in touch, and to prevent the person from feeling isolated.

If you wish to have a bit more contact than you can get through a regular phone call, you could also consider video chatting through an app like Facetime, depending on how comfortable the person is with technology.

If you've made several phone calls that haven't been returned and you are truly concerned for the safety of your friend or loved one, you could consider calling for emergency assistance to check on them.

Listen and Ask How to Help

If your friend or loved one does talk with you on the phone, the best thing you can do is to provide a listening ear. Just being there to listen and offer support could be the most important thing that you do during this time.

Ask what you can do to help, but also consider offering to do specific tasks or to drop off specific items. Do they have a dog that needs walking or other outdoor household chores you could handle? It could be that the person is overwhelmed mentally, and unable to think of what they need in the moment or afraid to be a burden on you.

Drop Off Meals & Groceries

A person affected by coronavirus may not have had time to stock up on necessary supplies or food to last for the quarantine period. You could consider preparing a few healthy freezer meals or doing a porch drop-off of a bag of fresh groceries.

Healthy foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits along with pantry staples with a long shelf-life are the smartest choices. Other items that you could include might be laundry detergent, soap, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper (if store stock permits). Just make sure that you are doing a contact-less drop-off to avoid spreading potential contamination.

Connect on Social Media

Where would we be in the middle of a pandemic without social media? If your friend or loved one is on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, stay in touch with them by sharing photos or updates.

The best approach to social media at this time will be to balance positivity with reality. A person who is already in quarantine or isolation due to coronavirus doesn't need to be told to "stay home." That person needs social connection and support more than anything at this time.

Send a Letter

Particularly if your friend or loved one is in the older adult category (65+), they may appreciate receiving a letter or card through the postal service. A handwritten card is something that they can tuck away to read again and again when they need to feel supported or are struggling with feeling isolated.

Arrange Deliveries

If you can't physically go out yourself to drop off groceries or other supplies to your friend or loved one, another option might be to arrange deliveries.

That might include local deliveries of groceries, personal care needs, and medications, or it could even mean deliveries from Amazon of books, magazines, etc. or other items to help them pass the time.

You could also check to see if any delivery services have sprung up in your community, such as neighbors helping each other or certain community groups offering to make deliveries to those in quarantine.

Tapping into the local community of your friend or loved one is one way to do this, either by looking for local Facebook groups or contacting anyone in the area that you know.

Do a Shared Activity

One way to stay socially connected might be to suggest a shared activity that will keep you in regular contact. Examples might include reading one chapter of a book each day and talking about it online, writing together in an online journal, or watching a particular movie at the same time and texting or instant messaging about your favorite parts.

Other ideas might include watching Netflix series together, playing online games against each other, or listening to the same audiobooks. Doing a shared activity gives the person something to do and it gives you a reason to stay in regular contact with them.

Keep Them Informed

While you don't want to make someone who is isolated feel more alarmed than necessary about the situation of the world, being a source of reliable information could help to dispel any myths that they may be subject to through social media.

This means keeping yourself informed by listening to reputable sources of information such as large news agencies, public health organizations, and government advisories.

Those faced with quarantine are more likely to feel distressed if they have unclear information and communication, which can be the case during the outbreak of a pandemic. Do what you can to minimize the impact of these issues by passing on as much reliable information as you feel comfortable sharing at this time.

Ask About Finances

While it may feel uncomfortable asking about money, if you know your friend or loved one might be facing financial pressures or living paycheck to paycheck without an emergency fund, it may be wise to check up on their financial health.

If you are in a position to help financially, that could be an option to temporarily ease their burden. Depending on how well you know the person, you could also offer to help them organize their finances or pay bills to relieve their mental burden and help where you can.

Give Them a Routine

Having a regular daily routine during isolation or quarantine is likely to help the person's mental health and mood. Getting enough sleep, getting regular exercise, and going to bed at a certain hour each night are just as important during isolation as they are at other times.

If you feel as though your friend or loved one is struggling to maintain feelings of normalcy, try to help them establish something of a routine to carry them through their period of isolation or quarantine.

Prepare Yourself

If you are feeling lost about how best to support the psychological health of others through a pandemic, Johns Hopkins University is offering free online psychological first aid training through the Coursera platform that can help you prepare for how to best support your loved ones. If you have concerns about the psychological well-being of your loved one, you could also look into online therapy or chat-based support.

Also, remember to take care of your own mental health during this difficult time. This may mean making extra time for self-care activities, even though it feels like that is the last thing you have time for. Keep up your exercise, get enough sleep, take vitamins, eat healthy, practice meditation, and generally amp up what you would normally do when going through a stressful period of life or a transition.

What This Means For You

While it is inevitable that many people will experience negative psychological impacts of coronavirus, there are steps you can take to support a loved one who has been impacted. In its most basic sense, this means listening with compassion, being present, and taking cues from the other person about what you can do to best offer your support and care at this time.

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  1. Liu X, Kakade M, Fuller CJ, et al. Depression after exposure to stressful events: lessons learned from the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. Compr Psychiatry. 2012;53(1):15-23. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2011.02.003

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