A disaster (which originally meant “ill-starred”, or “under a bad star”) changes the world and our view of it. Our focus shifts, and what matters shifts. What is weak breaks under new pressure, what is strong holds, and what was hidden emerges. Change is not only possible, we are swept away by it. We ourselves change as our priorities shift, as intensified awareness of mortality makes us wake up to our own lives and the preciousness of life. Even our definition of “we” might change as we are separated from schoolmates or co-workers, sharing this new reality with strangers. Our sense of self generally comes from the world around us, and right now, we are finding another version of who we are. (Solnit, 2020)
As Rebecca Solnit eloquently observes, COVID-19 has changed our lives in profound ways. We outlined in Section A how our identities are defined in substantial part by the groups to which we belong. It follows that if we are separated from these groups, then our sense of self can be profoundly shaken. In this section, we turn our attention to some of the precursors and consequences of social disconnection.
The section opens with an examination of COVID-19’s capacity to threaten not just us personally but also our group memberships, and hence our social identities (Chapter 7). This is followed by a discussion of the ways in which risk is perceived through the lens of group membership (Chapter 8). Our focus then pivots to exploring the consequences of COVID-19 for mental health and well-being. We start by examining how the social isolation that results from quarantine policies can lead to loneliness (Chapter 9) before zeroing in on ageing and connectedness (Chapter 10). The section concludes by looking at COVID-19 as a form of collective trauma, and considering how group processes affect people’s resilience in the face of the virus (Chapter 11). Together, these considerations serve to highlight two key points. First, apart from the physical effects of the virus itself, COVID-19 is also a hazard to health by virtue of the threat it poses to people’s social identities. Second, these social identities and those that emerge in the context of a pandemic are a key resource which is critical to the protection and promotion of health.