Lonely?  Anxious?  Stressed? Frustrated that you can’t go out and about when and where you wish.  Miss seeing family and friends?  Now we know what millions of people have been experiencing every day – pre-COVID. COVID is teaching us empathy, whether we like it or not.

Remember the word “shut-ins”?  I don’t hear that term much anymore but it basically referred to someone confined inside their home.  Often it was due to age, or mental or physical disability.  We would point to a house and say “Alice lives there.  She’s a shut-in.” Too often, we simply left it at that, and didn’t do too much to intervene other than an occasional visit. Unfortunately, it became a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” in many communities.

My mother was not a shut-in but once she lost the ability to drive, her social network decreased significantly.  She was dependent on others, losing the ability to go out on her own such as shopping, where and when she wanted.  I remember her saying, “It’s the nights that are hard, Johnny.”  Indeed, how many of you are wondering what time it is in the evening?  The days seem so long – and then you wake up and do the same thing the next day, and the next day…for who knows how long?  Yes, it is like Groundhog Day and it gets depressing.  Do you feel like you have lost some control?

How many of you thought you’d catchup on all those unread books and home improvements you’ve been meaning to do?  After a couple days, that gets old, doesn’t it?  Who really wants to clean out the garage or closets?!

Social isolation impacts our physical, mental and psychological health.  Data consistently shows loneliness’ impact on development of depression, anxiety, heart disease and dementia.  It decreases both quality of life as well life-expectancy.

Because of locked-downs and stay-in-place orders, we all have become shut-ins, and in so doing have experienced first-hand what friends and loved ones have been experiencing for quite some time.  Hopefully, we will become more attuned to those who face isolation and loneliness and make more of an effort in reaching out to help.  


  • John Whyte

    John Whyte, MD, MPH

    Dr. John Whyte is a popular physician and writer who has been communicating to the public about health issues for nearly two decades. He is currently the Chief Medical Officer, WebMD. In this role, Dr. Whyte leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. Prior to WebMD, Dr. Whyte served as the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Whyte worked with health care professionals, patients, and patient advocates, providing them with a focal point for advocacy, enhanced two-way communication, and collaboration, assisting them in navigating the FDA on issues concerning drug development, review, and drug safety. He also developed numerous initiatives to address diversity in clinical trials. Prior to this, Dr. Whyte worked for nearly a decade as the Chief Medical Expert and Vice President, Health and Medical Education at Discovery Channel, the leading non-fiction television network. In this role, Dr. Whyte developed, designed and delivered educational programming that appealed to both a medical and lay audience. This included television shows as well as online content that won over 50 awards including numerous Tellys, CINE Golden Eagle, and Freddies. Dr. Whyte is a board-certified internist and continues to see patients. He has written extensively in the medical and lay press.