Mental health charity warns of looming crisis from prolonged isolation and loneliness

A charity has warned that the coronavirus outbreak could spark a mental health crisis, with people deteriorating during months of isolation.

Increasing numbers of people are calling the helpline provided by mental health charity Sane because they are distressed due to an “escalating fear of loneliness and isolation”, it said.

Around 80% of the calls advisers are receiving are from people concerned about Covid-19 and its implications, but the helpline is struggling to meet demand due to some volunteers self-isolating.

It comes after the country was told to keep social interaction to a minimum to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

The advice about avoiding all social contact is particularly important for people over 70, pregnant women, and those with some health conditions.

Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said measures to tackle the spread of the disease need to be in place for a “prolonged period” and that the Government is trying to prevent “indirect deaths” – where people die because they cannot get the right medical care.

Sane’s chief executive, Marjorie Wallace, said: “Loneliness can be a killer.

“While there is all this focus on physical health, we are in danger of overlooking the impact of coronavirus on the mental health of the country, which could pose a risk in itself.”

She continued: “Saneline, our telephone helpline, is receiving more calls from people suffering from depression, anxiety, panic and obsessive compulsive disorder, who are becoming acutely distressed.

“Already 80% of our callers talk about self-harm and suicide, and we fear that, without being able to reach us or find other help, they may be tipped over the edge.

“For some people, particularly the elderly, the prospect of isolation can be daunting. For others, four months at home may be seen as a change in lifestyle, but for those with no real home or who are living in a substandard flat staring at the four walls, as many patients are, isolation can loom like a living hell.

“Psychiatric services need to be on red alert for patients who are deteriorating.”

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