Lockdown loneliness left woman, 71, roaming house with just the cat to talk to

It was at 1am, about two months after the UK’s first lockdown, when Joyce Taylor was convinced she was dying.

The 71-year-old was a lonely figure crouched in hot, tangled sheets and felt a throbbing in her chest that was so painful that she gasped.

That sense of panic had recurred every night since she started shielding herself for hours at her Manchester home alone at the start of the pandemic.

The retired employee with MS implored her elderly cat Amber, her only company for months, “When is this over?” But Amber could only stare in response.

Are you struggling with your mental health in lockdown? Email webnews@mirror.co.uk to tell your story

Individuals like Joyce have often experienced debilitating isolation. One study showed that screeners were confronted with “significantly higher” levels of depression


Daily Mirror / Andy Stenning)

That night Joyce thought she was having a heart attack.

“It was like the walls were tearing up around me,” she recalls.

“I was just so hot, my heart was pounding, my heart was pounding, and I had chest pain.”

She called her son who took her to A&E. Doctors diagnosed an anxiety attack.

Joyce was speechless – she had never suffered from it in her life.

“I’ve been through a lot of trauma, my diagnosis of MS, my husband died, my mother died, I took care of both of them. I was surprised that I was going through it at this point in my life, ”she admits.

Unfortunately, Joyce’s anxiety attacks are hardly surprising.

Older people who have been advised to shield themselves from Covid-19 and who have been repeatedly reminded of their vulnerability have seen a dramatic decline in their mental health.

Joyce admits that despite being double vaccinated, she only ventured back to art and exercise classes six weeks ago


Daily Mirror / Andy Stenning)

People living alone like Joyce have often faced debilitating isolation.

Many found themselves separated from partners in nursing homes or tragically mourned. The number of survivors over 65 increased by 15%.

Now, on day four of our HeadStrong: Better Mental Health For All campaign, we can reveal exclusive data released to the Daily Mirror by the Independent Age charity.

Twenty-nine percent say they feel sad, down or depressed about the future, 22% are still worried about getting Covid-19, and 16% say they will continue to feel lonely despite the end of the lockdown .

For many older people, lifting restrictions did not end fear or even isolation.

Joyce admits that despite having a double vaccination, she only ventured back to art and exercise classes six weeks ago, which were discontinued in March 2020.

“I can’t get buses or taxis, I feel nervous wherever there is a lot going on,” she explains.

“I still feel tired from constant stress,” she admits, adding that she continues to take the antidepressant she was prescribed during the pandemic.

Every night her anxiety rose and the insomnia made crippling fatigue


Daily Mirror / Andy Stenning)

The data, released by the ONS every two weeks, shows that for the last seven-day survey period in mid-September, an estimated 460,000 people over 70 in the UK did not leave their homes.

Over the same period, an estimated 2.3 million elderly people said they were uncomfortable leaving their home due to the pandemic.

“Older people are often overlooked in the mental health discussion, but they must not be left behind,” said Deborah Alsina MBE, executive director of Independent Age.

“The government must share the lessons learned from COVID-19 and prioritize funding for mental health support.”

Joyce’s story is very typical.

When Covid hit, her cleaning lady no longer came and her sons could only shop in front of the door.

Despite 21 apartments in their retirement complex, the community garden was a “ghost town”.

Every night her anxiety rose and the insomnia caused crippling fatigue that made her MS symptoms worse.

Joyce Taylor, 71, of Chorlton, who suffered debilitating panic attacks and is now overcoming them with the help of Age UK


Daily Mirror / Andy Stenning)

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She says this went on every night for about six months.

Her thoughts were dominated by her own death and a feeling that she no longer wanted to carry on.

“I had that fixed in my head, if I catch Covid, I will die,” she recalls.

“I remember Boris Johnson advising older people to have a serious conversation with their relatives, so I talked to my sons about the end of my life.”

Desperately sad, she recalls: “I apologized in advance for the clutter in my apartment that you would have to sort out. I talked about my funeral and said I didn’t want any fuss. “

She adds, “There were moments when I didn’t want to continue.”

The Daily Mirror launches our new HeadStrong: Better Mental Health For All campaign.

We demand:

  • Mental health early access hubs for under-25s are planned to be rolled out across the country, with at least one for each trust.
  • Waiting times are to be shortened so that people can actually start treatment within four weeks
  • The government is supposed to fill the gaps in care – an end to red tape, which means many do not meet the established criteria to receive help, as well as 8,500 other psychiatric workers
  • Compulsory mental health classes in schools, as well as paid counselors in schools and nursing homes

Want to help? Write to your MP asking them to support the current 459 Early Day Motion to debate mental health and the pandemic in Parliament.

Fortunately, Joyce was able to call her GP who referred her to Age UK Manchester’s counseling service, and regular therapy and medication have helped her manage her anxiety.

In early 2020, the charity’s service offered 55 hours of counseling a month. This has now risen to an average of 76 per month, sometimes almost 90.

Service manager Peter Ireland describes callers who suffer from anxiety, depression and complicated bereavement as well as health anxiety, care stress during Covid and isolation.

He describes a client with COPD who lived in a small bedroom and who suffered from the shielding causing claustrophobia.

“We had another customer whose husband died of Covid and she was unable to attend his funeral due to her own shielding,” he adds. “You were married for 54 years. The counseling helped her with her complicated grieving process and her feelings of guilt. “

He says: “Some of our customers had a general fear of this invisible enemy and they were afraid of other people, of shopping or going for a walk. Even if the lockdown is over for many people, the fear, fear and mistrust continue for them. “

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But while Joyce asked for help, many elderly people did not.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, an elderly and mental health academic who also works as a general practitioner, explains that Covid’s “Protect the NHS” message was reluctant to disrupt their operation. They were also put off by online counseling or were afraid to attend in person.

She says that the elderly often still feel a stigma about mental health, and this is made worse by too many GPs “normalizing” mental health problems in older patients rather than asking about their mood.

Referral rates to NHS psychological therapies (IAPT) for those over 65 are always lower than they should be. While the target for the age group is 12% of all referrals, they were only 5.7% before the pandemic.

And this had even fallen to 4.6% by the beginning of this year.

The boy struggled so much with the Covid lockdown that he ran through traffic avoiding the crowds Mirror Mental Health Center: Advice, Symptoms and Where to Get Help

Professor Chew-Graham says, “It was always a hidden problem, now it’s more hidden.”

And she explains emphatically that, in addition to the quality of life, the lives of older people are also at risk if their mental health is not supported.

“Older adults also injure and kill themselves,” she explains.

“Nice guide to self-harm is about cutting and overdosing, but the older adults we’ve spoken to say that may include binge eating, excessive alcohol, perhaps not taking your pills, or following your diabetic diet.”

And she adds that depression can also make your physical condition worse, even fatal.

“One of the most important things is that depression can make other long-term illnesses worse,” she says. “It can worsen outcomes in diabetes or heart disease. This can lead to earlier deaths. “

While the support has now helped Joyce venture beyond her four walls, many elderly people are still inside, desperately in need.

How to Get Help: If you have problems or are concerned about a loved one, contact Samaritans at 116123. More advice can be found at nhs.uk/mental-health or www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus

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