Quarantine has psychological impact which can be long-lasting, says review

People with even mild coronavirus symptoms have been told they must stay at home for at least seven days, but what is the psychological impact of isolation?

A recent review of the psychological impact of quarantine, published in The Lancet, suggested that it is “wide-ranging, substantial, and can be long-lasting”.

The research, by the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London, points out that while the definition of the terms “quarantine” and “isolation” differ, they are often used interchangeably, especially in communication with the public.

“Quarantine is often an unpleasant experience for those who undergo it. Separation from loved ones, the loss of freedom, uncertainty over disease status, and boredom can, on occasion, create dramatic effects,” the review said.

The academics said information is key, and that people who are quarantined need to understand the situation, pointing out that the quarantine period should be short and the duration should not be changed unless in extreme circumstances.

The review, published last month as the coronavirus outbreak continued to take hold, said most of the adverse effects of quarantine come from the imposition of a restriction of liberty, adding that voluntary quarantine is associated with less distress and fewer long-term complications.

In conclusion, the review said: “Overall, this review suggests that the psychological impact of quarantine is wide-ranging, substantial, and can be long-lasting.

“This is not to suggest that quarantine should not be used; the psychological effects of not using quarantine and allowing disease to spread might be worse.

“However, depriving people of their liberty for the wider public good is often contentious and needs to be handled carefully.

“If quarantine is essential, then our results suggest that officials should take every measure to ensure that this experience is as tolerable as possible for people.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned this week that large numbers of people having to self-isolate is “only likely to increase” domestic abuse incidents in the UK.