The Road to Recovery:
The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Wellbeing
The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives, forcing us to stay inside and minimise contact with friends and family. As current restrictions gradually lift, we question not only the physical impact, but the effect coronavirus has had on mental health and wellbeing. In this Spotlight article, we look at how we can begin our road to recovery and the help available to help us get there.
Impact on Wellbeing
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the impact of COVID-19 on mental and psychosocial wellbeing will be significant and enduring. Although the pandemic primarily affects physical health, it has made a noticeable impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many, particularly older adults and people classed as high risk who were more likely to contract the virus and consequently required to shield.
Regardless of age, social distancing and isolation can result in loneliness, loss of confidence and increase the risk of anxiety and depression. All of which are heightened if someone lives alone. There is also evidence to suggest older adults experience a cognitive decline due to the lack of stimulating activities involved in socialising, contact with friends and family, and hobbies.
Sian Wareing Jones from the Alzheimer’s Association commented on the added pressures placed on older adults. “With age being identified as a risk factor, there’s been a great deal of fear and anxiety among older people and this has been reinforced by the language used in directives from the government, the restrictions of ‘shielding’ and messages to all of us about protecting the vulnerable”.
Physical Impact on Older Adults
Older adults may also experience a substantial physical impact of shielding and isolation. If there has been a decline in physical activity during periods of lockdown, it can lead to weakened muscles, deteriorating strength, balance and flexibility resulting in an overall loss of mobility.
A report by Age UK states, ‘It seems that as medical experts predicted would occur, being shut away at home for long periods during this health emergency is leaving significant numbers of older people with reduced mobility and experiencing what clinicians call ‘deconditioning’ – a loss of physical capacity due to muscle weakness, as well as joint pain. Ordinary activities, such as going upstairs or washing, have therefore become difficult, and previously independent older people have become reliant on walking aids to move the short distances they used to manage with ease’.
Carrying out Daily Living Activities
The study continues, ‘The coronavirus pandemic has sharply accelerated the social care needs of older people, with nearly a quarter finding it harder to carry out everyday activities. Two in five (42%) who had difficulty walking up and down the stairs before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then’.
As current restrictions ease, we look positively to the future ahead and hope to return to some level of ‘normality’. But faced with the impact of the last 15 months, how do we begin to adapt our lives to cater for the changes in our physical and mental health? The following is a list of help and support available;
A relatively new but important service from the NHS, Social Prescribing aims to provide community support and tackle loneliness and isolation, especially for those without a strong network of family and friends. Social prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer people to a link worker who takes a holistic approach to an individual’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support. Find out more here.
If you have experienced muscle weakness, joint pain, deteriorating strength or balance issues, your mobility may have been affected. This loss of physical capability may mean navigating the stairs has become difficult, and not being able to move around your home safely can have a significant impact on self-confidence and wellbeing. Home adaptations can contribute towards you living safely and independently, negating the need to ask for help from family, friends or carers and can be an important factor when maintaining personal relationships, self-confidence and self-esteem.
Homelifts – designed to help with stairs
A home lift can be installed to ensure safe movement between floors, avoiding the risk of a trip or fall on the stairs. There are now home lifts on the market which are more attractive than the box-like through-floor lifts previously available. Genuinely compact home lifts from companies like Stiltz are specifically designed to blend in with the interior of your home, the lifts are discreet, quiet and powered by plugging into a standard wall socket. A home lift can also be used to carry heavy items between floors such as washing, enabling the maintenance of your normal daily living activities.
Disabled Facilities Grant
You may be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant if you need to make adaptations to your home. The grant covers anything that contributes towards you living a fulfilling and independent life. To apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant, contact your local authority. Find out more here in our guide to DFG’s.
Once you have the freedom to move around your home safely and with peace of mind, the confidence to carry out additional activities such as exercise, gardening and meeting up with friends and family could gradually return. Carolyn Chew-Graham, a GP Principal in an Age UK interview commented, “I use a technique called Behavioural Activation, which is saying to people, ‘Why don’t you keep a diary’, because we know that if you do pleasurable things, that can make you feel better. Write down, for each day, something good that you’re going to do, and that may be inside the house or it may be outside the house, going to the allotment or walking round the shops.”
In summary, everyone has been affected in some way by the coronavirus, and we face many challenges ahead. But always remember that you are not alone, help is out there, whether that is in the form of government grants for accessible and independent living, mental health counselling, or support from your community. Find out more on the NHS website.