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/

What Causes Clinical Depression?

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There is some debate concerning the causes of depression. On the one hand, it is considered a physiological disorder of the brain. Signals are sent through the brain–and in fact the entire nervous system–by special chemicals called neurotransmitters. There are many of these, but the ones which seem to have the greatest impact on a person’s mood are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Depression appears to involve a reduced amount of one or more of these, hindering brain signals and in turn causing the various symptoms of depression. MRI’s and brain tissue samples of depressed patients shows that these neurotransmitters are below normal.

While this is true, however, there are usually circumstantial influences as well. Depression almost always follows some upsetting or terrible event in someone’s life (it can come immediately or after some length of time). Cases in which people become depressed solely because of brain physiology, are exceedingly rare. Depression also goes hand-in-hand with low self-esteem, which is often an integral part of the depression (in other words, it can be a symptom, or a cause, or even both).

Thus, it’s evident that both physiology and circumstance cause depression. What is unknown is, the relationship between them. Do bad things happen to people, making them sad or distraught, which reduces their neurotransmitters, and allows “true” depression to set it? Or, are the neurotransmitters already reduced, so that when something upsetting happens, it triggers a “true” depression?

There’s no clear answer to this, yet. At the moment, most in the psychiatric community lean toward the first explanation.

In any case, it’s important to note that no one is to blame for depression. In many–but by no means all–cases, depression results from harmful childhood experiences. However, it is nonproductive and even incorrect to “blame” one’s parents, family, friends, etc. for the depression. Why? Because many people have unpleasant childhoods, but not all of them develop depression. It is not the sole cause. Depression can also follow divorce, bereavement, etc. but this does not mean that these things “caused” the depression all by themselves. There are a great number of factors, including physiology (which I’ve already mentioned). Once again, depression is an illness. If you got the flu, would you blame it on someone else? Of course not, that would be silly! Depression is exactly the same.