October 15, 2020
Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days in space, has some advice for those who are experiencing loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think the biggest lesson I learned is that even though you're isolated, you don't have to be alone," Kelly told Cheddar. "There are things that you can do, actions you can take to connect with people, because social isolation, especially for older adults, can lead to loneliness and depression, which is a public health threat."
Kelly is partnering with the AARP Foundation to promote this message in the coming month. The interest group dedicated to helping Americans over 50 is compiling resources on connect2affect.org, including articles, surveys, and a search function for local services, that aim to help older adults combat social isolation.
Behind this effort is a new study from the foundation showing that two-thirds of adults reported experiencing social isolation and high levels of anxiety during the pandemic, which is now well-understood to potentially cause harm to physical and mental health.
"One thing that NASA has learned by having people in space for a long time for many, many years is that being isolated can not only affect your mental health but also your physical health," he said. "Particularly your immune system can be affected by being isolated, by not getting outside, not getting enough sunlight, not getting out in nature, being disconnected from your friends and family."
Helping people overcome the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues is another aspect of the partnership. Kelly explained that he was required to speak with a psychologist every two weeks while living in space, whether he felt he needed it at the time or not.
Kelly also commented on another earthbound matter. His brother, fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, is currently running for Senate in Arizona on the Democratic ticket. If he wins, it could have significant consequences regarding, for instance, the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee like Amy Coney Barrett.
"Well I'm his brother, so of course I'm a big supporter of his," he said. "I think people mostly need to understand that even though it's not a requirement in our country to vote, that I think it's a civic responsibility, and as we get closer to the election, everyone should have a plan to vote."