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Occupational Deprivation and Isolation in Times of COVID-19

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

Occupational Therapy, Coronavirus, COVID19

COVID-19 has changed the way we live since it first came into our lives at the end of 2019, with widespread occupational injustice (Stadnyk et al, 2010). With daily terms such as 'new cases', 'social distancing' and 'restrictions' now common everywhere we look – from social media and the news to conversations with friends – even our everyday vocabulary has been forced to change.

But what are the real impacts this global pandemic is having on our lives, from an occupational therapy perspective?

Occupational deprivation is a 'state in which people are precluded from opportunities to engage in [activities] of meaning due to factors outside their control' (Whiteford 2000, p.200)

The novel Corona Virus has caused widespread occupational deprivation, as we have been forced to stop or change many meaningful daily activities, that provide us not only with a sense of routine in our daily lives, but also a sense of role and belonging in our societies and relationships.

A major change that many can relate to is the new work-from-home movement, that has occurred across our society. The healthy routines we had developed have been cast aside. Although we may not have realised it at the time, those routines of getting up, going for a run, having a shower, eating breakfast and rushing out the door were crucial in developing our overall sense of purpose and created a very necessary and comforting sense of habit in our lives. The days of leaving the house at 8am and returning at 6pm are gone for many of us. Our new work office is the kitchen table, our new work colleagues are our pets and our new lunch hour breaks are spent silently scrolling on our phones.

This massive shift in our everyday habits and routines is likely to have caused everybody a certain degree of anxiety and a feeling of unease.

We are creatures of habit after all. The uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with this virus has tossed all the habits and rituals - that we spent many decades developing - out the window.

The knock-on effect of all this upheaval is that we may now start to question our roles entirely. It is hard to feel like a member of a work team when the only interaction with the team is via a Zoom call! [Other video platforms are available]. Similarly, it is hard to feel like a manager when you cannot see your work colleagues face-to-face, for that crucial 5 minutes catch-up in the morning over coffee.

In our personal lives, the virus has also caused massive social barriers. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, we have all experienced isolation to a certain extent. We longed for the simple, everyday occupations that we used to take for granted – going for a coffee with a friend, going out for a drink on a Friday night with a work group, going to a gym class on a Saturday. Zoom quizzes, voice messages and social media platforms became the foundation of all friendships and relationships and certainly caused strain and loneliness for many. Grandchildren went months without being able to hug their grandparents, as did many partners of those working on the frontline and in our health services. These sacrifices, although crucial to 'flatten the curve', had significant impact on our minds and well-being.

In the words of Ann Wilcock - the founder of so many occupational therapy concepts - it is through 'doing' and 'being' that we 'become' and 'belong'.

We have adapted in so many ways, because of our integral need to engage in meaningful occupations and socialise with those around us. We have found new ways to do what makes us happy – from socially distanced gym classes to drive-in cinemas. We have overcome many social barriers, through the use of technology. But we must continue to use our innovation to overcome these obstacles, to ensure we do not lose our sense of role and belonging in today’s crazy world.



  • Stadnyk, R., Townsend, E., & Wilcock, A. (2010). Occupational justice. In C. H. Christiansen & E. A. Townsend (Eds.), Introduction to occupation: The art and science of living (2nd ed., pp. 329–358). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. 

  • Whiteford, G. (2000). Occupational Deprivation: Global Challenge in the New Millennium. British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 63(5), 200-204. doi: 10.1177/030802260006300503

1 Comment

Jul 28, 2022

Excellent piece of writing! So true how we are OTs are in a unique position to realise the occupational deprivation and social isolation COVID 19 has caused us as an entire global community.

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