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Social distancing damaging mental health of the elderly

10 November 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major effect on the mental health of older people in the UK and around the world. Social distancing, shielding and increased periods of isolation have created a mental health crisis for the aged. 

The anxieties of the pandemic, combined with less visits to their GP and minimal outdoor activity has also led to an increase in substance misuse in the elderly who are increasingly turning to alcohol instead of asking for help. 

Dr Syed Omair Ahmed, psychiatrist at Priory’s Birmingham Wellbeing Centre in the city centre, said “The causes are manifold including boredom, isolation, fear, lack of family contact, and lack of outdoor activities.

“Not seeing a GP out of fear of Covid-19 means that physical health conditions are not being optimally addressed, and this can lead to increased drinking as a coping mechanism for pain or pre-existing mental health issues.

“And a change to your daily routine can often mean sleep patterns are disrupted – again leading to an increased use of alcohol as a sleeping aid.

A recent Public Health England report showed a 34% increase in number of people drinking over 50 units a week during lockdown. The NHS recommends people keep their alcohol consumption to less than 14 units a week.

Dr Ahmed recommends a few strategies to tackle this problem: going to see your GP in the first instance, contacting one of the many charities who can help such as The Samaritans or The Silver Line, or contacting your local alcohol support agencies. 

There will undoubtedly be a range of wide reaching effects from the pandemic, both from lingering coronavirus symptoms and the strain it has caused on the mental health of the UK. With the possibility of a vaccine on the horizon for the end of 2020 to reduce infection rates, 2021 will be the year of facing the true damage of the pandemic.