Millions worrying about the impact lockdown is having on mental health

New research[i] shows that nearly three-quarters (6.4 million) people aged 70 and over in Great Britain are worried about the effect that Coronavirus is having on their life right now[ii], with over two-fifths (2.9 million) of them saying their mental health has been affected by Coronavirus[iii]

During lockdown, half of these older people (3.3. million) reported that their access to essential items like groceries and medication had been affected[iv]. While the Government’s instructions to stay at home are vital for protection against the virus, they also mean that millions of older people are locked down alone, at an incredibly anxious time. 

Mental health problems don’t end as you get older. Older people experience depression, loneliness and anxiety like other age groups. However, many older people do not seek help and instead, adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to dealing with these feelings, and the longer the lockdown continues, the more these feelings risk being amplified. 

The research shows that many older people feel anxious at this time, but not just for themselves. Over four in five (7.7m) people aged 70 and over are worried about the effect that Coronavirus will have on their family and friends[v], particularly their mental health and wellbeing, with over two-fifths (3.6m) of them believing it[vi] will affect it. 

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director said: “Lockdown brought sudden changes to all of our lives and that has naturally affected our feelings and mood leaving many of us experiencing feeling low, worried or having problems sleeping. 

“Understandably, social distancing can be boring or frustrating for many older people even though it is an essential measure for keeping us safe. We all miss being outside with other people and seeing our friends and family. Many are missing life events, seeing and hugging grandchildren, meeting new additions to families, going to weddings and gatherings. Even very basic things like getting online to order essential food and products can present a challenge. All of these things can have an impact our mental health which is why we should all take some simple steps to safeguard our own and other’s emotional wellbeing.”

At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which in turn can make you feel worse. For Mental Health Awareness Week Age UK is highlighting some simple steps that can help older people to stay mentally and physically active during this time:

Stay current There’s a huge amount of information available on the online, including misleading or inaccurate news that isn’t always easy to spot at the moment. General coverage of this Coronavirus can also often focus on the risks for older people.

The constant stream of information we’re getting about coronavirus can feel overwhelming so set time aside to catch up with the latest information perhaps once or twice a day and avoid constantly rereading information. Stick to official sources of information.

Keep to a routine
Maintaining a routine as best you can may help you feel better and more in control. If you can’t do what you normally do, try and create a new routine that prioritises looking after yourself. Keep windows open to let in fresh air, get some natural sunlight if possible, or get outside into the garden if you have one.

Don’t bottle it up – reach outIf you feel particularly anxious and overwhelmed make sure you talk to someone you trust like a friend or family member. Don’t ignore those feelings.

Stay connected
Now more than ever it is essential we stay connected and adapt how we connect with people to find new ways to stay in touch.  A regular chat with a friend can make a huge difference to how we feel. Sharing stories and even having a bit of a moan when we need it can work wonders! Stay in touch over the phone or by post. Those who are more confident using technology may choose tokeep in contact with friends or family, using email or social media or try video call services like Skype or FaceTime. For a guide visit www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/work-learning/technology-internet/video-calling/

Keep moving
Being active – even just a little bit – is proven to help give you a boost. A quick walk down the street,  bearing in mind the Government’s advice on social distancing of keeping a two metre space from other people, gardening, or moving around the house are all good pick-me-ups. However, being more active isn’t about working up a sweat or running marathons it’s simply about moving more each day, in whatever way works, within our own capabilities. Follow Government advice if you’re taking a walk and take precautions.

For those with less mobility or who may be sitting down a lot during the day, get up at least once an hour. If that’s not possible, moving arms and legs for a few minutes will help. Set small goals and achievable targets then build on those goals. There are some exercises on the Age UK website that offer simple ways to keep active during the pandemic: www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/coronavirus/staying-safe-and-well-at-home/home-exercises/

Do something you enjoy every day
Settle in with a favourite book or audio book, do some cooking, listen to the radio or tune in to an afternoon radio play. Try your hand at writing or do a puzzle in the newspaper or online. Make sure that you have everything you need to take up or continue hobbies, such as arts and crafts or wool if you are a keen knitter.  

Maybe there is a neighbourly Book Club dial-in. It might turn out that some of these options  are a good way to nip loneliness in the bud in the long-term as well.

Eat healthily
If you are staying at home because you are 70 and over or have a serious health condition, try shopping on the internet or maybe a neighbour could help collect shopping for you.

If you can, aim to get plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and remember that frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables count towards your five-a-day. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day.

Don’t use alcohol, or other drugs to deal with emotions.
Keep an eye on the Government’s and NHS advice on staying at home and visiting friends and family: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidancehttps://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

For a free guide called Your Mind Matters which focuses on improving mental wellbeing or information on depression and anxiety in later life visit:

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/depression-anxiety/

The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90) is a free, national, confidential helpline which is open every day and night, offering information, friendship and advice to older people. More details on The Silver Line website: www.thesilverline.org.uk

For information on talking therapies visit:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/benefits-of-talking-therapy/

About the Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic study

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

The Mental Health Foundation is leading a longitudinal study of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the mental health of people across the United Kingdom.

Our team

For the study – Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic – the Foundation has redeployed some of its most experienced research and policy experts to partly work on this and its implications. Principal Investigator is the Foundation’s Director for England and Wales, Dr Antonis Kousoulis. Susan Solomon is the Research Manager for the study.

The Foundation is working closely with four academic partners from across the UK to analyse, interpret and contextualise the data. Our lead Co-Investigators are:

  • Prof Tine Van Bortel, from the University of Cambridge
  • Prof Ann John, from Swansea University
  • Prof Alec Morton, from the University of Strathclyde
  • Prof Gavin Davidson, from Queen’s University Belfast

Also involved is the public opinion research company YouGov.

Our project

Since mid-March 2020, the project has done regular repeated surveys of more than 4,000 adults. The surveys are conducted online by YouGov. Participants are different on each sampling occasion but taken from the same pool and representative of people aged 18+ and living in the UK.

The survey is not diagnostic and is taking a public mental health approach. Each time it covers a range of topics designed to shed light on people’s emotional responses to the pandemic, the key social drivers of distress, coping mechanisms and suicidal thoughts.

The study is repeating the survey approximately every three weeks and overall, it is expected to last for four to six months. A particular interest is on the pandemic’s impact on inequality and mental health.

A diverse Citizens’ Jury is contributing qualitative information, personal insights, and comments on the data generated by the study. Jury members were selected to represent a broad range of human experience within the UK, including that of living or having lived with mental health problems.

Ethical approval has been obtained from the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

One of the outputs of the research project will be regular briefings informed by detailed analysis of the data, that will in turn generate recommendations for action by policymakers. We are also sharing our anonymised and aggregate data with the government and policy colleagues from the 4 nations of the UK.