Abstract: Addressing Social Isolation Among Immigrant Women: Staying Virtually Connected during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

548P Addressing Social Isolation Among Immigrant Women: Staying Virtually Connected during COVID-19

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Erum Agha, PhD, MSW, LCSW, Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Stefani N. Baca-Atlas, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in unprecedented ways. Social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines, while necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus have resulted in consequences on financial, social and mental well-being of individuals and communities. People of color and marginalized communities are disproportionally affected and their risks for social isolation are heightened during the pandemic. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can elevate the risk of emotional distress, damage health and shorten lives. Moreover, community connectivity and social support are among the key social determinants of health. Accordingly, social connections are vital to the well-being of communities and the effects of social isolation are well-documented among marginalized and underrepresented groups.

Methods: This study uses the retro- pre/post design. Participants were unemployed adult South Asian immigrant women with low education and technology skills (n=16). Age range for the participants was 32-65 years. The group met regularly in-person at a local community center before the pandemic, became disconnected for the first six months of the pandemic and reconnected via Zoom upon receiving technology training from the facilitator. At the end of the session participants completed the 6-item DeJong Gierveld Loneliness Scale which includes 3-items for emotional loneliness and 3-items for social loneliness. Bivariate relationships between group status (i.e., education level, country of origin) as the independent variable and the dependent variable and covariates were examined using chi-square tests for categorical variables. Two-tailed inferential tests were used with alpha set at .05.

Results: Older women with low technology skills reported higher emotional and social loneliness prior to reconnecting virtually (p <.05). Social loneliness was lower in women with young children before reconnecting (p <.05). All women reported improved emotional and social loneliness after reconnecting (p <.05). Social loneliness occurs when an individual misses a wider social network. Emotional loneliness occurs when someone misses an intimate relationship. Results indicate that older women with low technology skills are at a higher risk of not having intimate relationships and social networks. These risks are associated with health and mental health problems for older immigrant women.

Conclusion & Implications: South Asian immigrant women are a marginalized group. Support groups afford bio-psycho-social-spiritual support to these women in safe and known settings. This form of support is in line with the focus of Healthy People 2030 i.e., social support for individuals where they live, learn, work or play. In addition, these support groups also provide a platform for social and emotional well-being for immigrant women and can help the women adapt to the virtual platform. Technical skills acquired from using virtual connections are transferable to other areas such as community involvement, education and employment. Future research should make space for small samples of these hidden and marginalized groups.