Unlike people with families, partners or housemates, people living alone in the lockdown are forced into an indefinite period of no physical contact and limited (if any) face-to-face interaction.
And that is why it’s especially important we stay in touch with people who are on their own.
According to a recent YouGov survey one in five people state that they are living alone in the current lockdown. And whilst we are all worried about people’s physical health in this very difficult time, we need to pay attention to their mental health too. For people on their own, it is a very lonely time. Yes, new technology can keep us connected to people, but it is not a substitute for the feeling of communicating in person…
I say this as someone who is in their early fifties and does not have a partner, children, or family connections - something of a ‘hidden group’. But because of my age I am supposed to be independent and self-reliant. People expect you to be able to cope. They don't think that you might be feeling lonely, or low. As testament to this, in doing the research for this article, it was a struggle to easily find information for coping with living alone in this isolating time.
According to research by the Office for National Statistics, the number of people living on their own went up by 16% to 7.7 million between 1997 and 2017. The rise in single-person households was greater than the population increase of 13% and largely concentrated in midlife and older age groups. In fact, while the number of people aged 25 to 44 living alone fell by 16% between 1997 and 2017, the number of 45- to 64-year-olds living on their own increased by 53% over the same period. By 2039, the number of one-person households is projected to rise to 10.7 million.
Add to all this the fact that the COVID-19 crisis has thrown up many challenges to people’s circumstances with regard to health, employment, home, and access to resources - and we are looking at probable increases in depression, exacerbated for those who are already living with the condition. The Campaign to End loneliness points out that research indicates isolation can have big effects on both mental and physical health: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/
Many people on their own will worry that if they become unwell in lockdown they have no-one to look out for them or support them...
So, what can be done to help those on their own?
- If you know of someone who is on their own, remember to phone them regularly to see how they are. Show empathy - it is NOT helpful to diminish people’s feelings by saying things like, ‘I’d LOVE to have time to myself’.
- Offer to do their shopping or errands.
- Join an app like Nextdoor to see if people nearby need assistance.
- The Samaritans has some excellent advice on what to do if you’re worried about someone feeling isolated, as well as how to look after your own mental health: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/support-and-information/worried-about-someone-else/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else-during-coronavirus-outbreak/
How to find help for yourself
- Mind has tips on looking after your mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/#collapseb830e, as well as an online peer support community called Elefriends
- SANEline runs an out of hours mental health helpline: http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/helpline
- The March Network is a mental health network focused on the power of bringing people together with social, cultural and community assets and has shared some home-based, creative ways to support mental health during these times: https://www.marchnetwork.org/creative-isolation
- Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is a group of volunteers supporting local community groups in organising mutual aid throughout the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK. Find a Mutual Aid group here: https://covidmutualaid.org
- A way to combat loneliness is to have a sense of purpose by doing things for others - whether formally volunteering, being a thoughtful friend or supporting vulnerable neighbours. H4All is looking for people to deliver support to Hillingdon residents most in need. The application form can be found on the hillingdon.gov.uk website: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeeIv4iiXnuZ55nhgcGtPFS-eReATzypLBTWTAYHuFtFuvU-Q/viewform
- The NHS has been looking for volunteer responders, although recruitment is currently paused at the time of writing. More information can be found at https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS
- The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission has a directory of support for specific groups and older people, plus volunteering opportunities: https://www.jocoxfoundation.org/loneliness_directory
This crisis has highlighted how important connection is in our lives, and how tough it can be when that’s missing. It is a reminder that for too many people their lives are often like this.
Once this is all over, my hope is that this newly found social conscience is not forgotten, and that we focus on continuing to build community spirit to support one another.
We want to understand the impact of coronavirus on Hillingdon residents so we can make sure we are giving the best possible advice and guidance - How are you coping with the coronavirus crisis? Tell us here
You can also contact Healthwatch Hillingdon from 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday if you need any advice and guidance:
01895 272 997
07957667776 (SMS only)
Or you can use the form on the Contact us page.