MENTAL health campaigners have expressed concern about the “mental health time bomb” that could cause a “winter of discontent”.
After experiencing two national lockdowns, many have had to isolate themselves away from the world, due to social distancing and social shielding.
With these measures in place many have felt that they are missing out on social contact that they once took for granted.
Loneliness, especially in rural areas, is becoming an increasing problem, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.
Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, Robin Hewings said: “Research has shown that for those who were already experiencing loneliness, those feelings have only been worsened.
“In rural areas, lockdown has prevented some of the important ways people come together, such as pubs and churches.
“If people don’t have access to the internet, they can’t take part in meet-ups and events that have moved online, or video calls with friends and family. This can lead to people feeling even more isolated.”
A lot of people get lonely but for those that suffer with it on a day to day basis it can have severe health impacts.
Research done by the Campaign to End Loneliness found that loneliness is associated with early mortality and loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life.
Loneliness and social isolation put individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The elderly are most at risk due to an increased ‘digital divide’ as many don’t have the internet or smartphones to join in with Zoom calls or social media.
Paul Bannister from ManHealth said: “It is such a challenge for people as most face to face things have been cancelled for people.
“People are feeling very isolated, especially the older generations who face a digital divide, which has really widened in the lockdowns. Many haven’t got the technology or the internet to access Zoom.
“Our advice would be to stay connected, there are lots of befriending services out there. Get out in the fresh air and exercise and make sure you eat well. We are social animals and we need to be connected.
“Covid-19 is a mental health time bomb, until the vaccine comes it will be a very long winter of discontent.
“For those who need someone to talk to we have a chat system running seven days a week, open to any man in County Durham from 6pm-10pm.”
Gordon Elliott, head of partnerships and community engagement, said: “We understand that many people are feeling more alone or isolated as a result of the pandemic. To help combat those feelings, we have a Chat Together service as part of our County Durham Together community hub. This service is open to anyone who would like to hear a friendly voice or for someone to chat and listen to them. We also offer residents a reading service as part of our online library service Borrowbox, providing a selection of books, enewspapers and emagazines for people to listen to at home.
“Furthermore, our £1.4 million investment into our Area Action Partnerships (AAPs) at the start of the pandemic has supported a wide range of community groups in delivering projects that tackle loneliness, while a number of voluntary and community organisations and faith groups are supporting people of all ages across the county. You can find details of these on the Locate website.”
Residents can contact Durham County Council’s County Durham Together community hub via calling: 03000 260260.
More information on how to look after mental health and support services that are available can be found on the council’s website: www.durham.gov.uk/covid19mentalhealth or the Locate website www.durhamlocate.org.uk.