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Millions worrying about the impact lockdown is having on mental health

By: Age UK
Published on 18 May 2020 12:00 AM

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. 

Age UK is raising awareness of the increased emotional strain that older people are under during lockdown as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 18-24 May

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 out
If 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-guidance

https://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/

ENDS

References:

[i] The data for all the figures in this press release, sourced by Age UK, is from a survey covering the period 24th April to 3rd May 2020 published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as follows: Office for National Statistics. 2020. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. These survey findings are the most recent available at the time of writing. The Office for National Statistics have adapted the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) monthly omnibus survey to become a weekly survey, with results weighted to be a nationally representative sample for Great Britain. The survey is completed online, with individuals not completing the survey online given the opportunity to take part over the phone.

[ii] Office for National Statistics. 2020. Table 4a. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. In response to the question, “ How worried or unworried are you about the effect that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on your life right now?”, 18.8% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 13.4% and 23.1%) of people aged 70 and over responded “very worried” and 52.7% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 46.1% and 59.3%) “somewhat worried”. Therefore 71.5% of people aged 70 and over responded they were very or somewhat worried about the effect of COVID-19 on their lives right now.

[iii] Office for National Statistics. 2020. Table 4a & 4b. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. Of those people aged 70 and over who responded that they were very worried or somewhat worried to the question, “How worried or unworried are you about the effect that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on your life right now?” 44.4% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 37.1% and 51.7%) responded “My well-being is being affected (for example, boredom, loneliness, anxiety and stress)” to the question “In which ways is Coronavirus (COVID-19) affecting your life?

[iv] Office for National Statistics. 2020. Table 4a & 4b. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. Of those people aged 70 and over who responded that they were very worried or somewhat worried to the question, “How worried or unworried are you about the effect that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on your life right now?” 51.8% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 44.1% and 59.6%) responded “Access to groceries, medication and essentials are being affected” to the question “In which ways is Coronavirus (COVID-19) affecting your life? ”

[v] Office for National Statistics. 2020. Table 11. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. In response to the question, “How worried or unworried are you that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting your friends and family?”, 28.7% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 22.8% and 34.6%) of people aged 70 and over responded “very worried">” and 55.9% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 49.5% and 62.4%) “somewhat worried”. Therefore 84.6% of people aged 70 and over responded they were very or somewhat worried that COVID-19 is affecting their friends and family.

[vi]Office for National Statistics. 2020. Table 11. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 14 May 2020 [online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata [accessed on 14th May 2020]. Of those people aged 70 and over who responded that they were very worried or somewhat worried to the question, “How worried or unworried are you that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting your friends and family?” 46.3% (with a 95% confidence interval of between 39.5% and 53.0%) responded “Well-being is being affected (for example, boredom, loneliness, anxiety and stress)” to the question “In which ways is Coronavirus (COVID-19) affecting your friends and family?

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Last updated: Jun 11 2020

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