Nearly two-thirds of disabled people suffer chronic loneliness during pandemic – study

Nearly two-thirds of disabled people are experiencing chronic loneliness during lockdown, a new study has found.

The number is even higher among young disabled people – 70%, according to research by disability charity Sense.

It has sparked fears of a mental health crisis facing the population of 14.1 million disabled people living in the UK, after the charity said cases of loneliness has jumped by a quarter in the last year for those who were already disproportionately affected by the issue prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

Of the 1,011 disabled people surveyed between the January 20-22 this year, 37% said they were chronically lonely before the pandemic, rising to 54% for 16 to 24-year-olds.

Nearly two-thirds – 61% – of disabled people said they were now chronically lonely, after they described feeling lonely “always” or “often”.

The charity said feelings of chronic loneliness “go on for a long period of time”, whereby people suffer “constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone, separated or divided from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level”.

Christine Punt (pictured), 70, from Watford, in Hertfordshire, is deafblind – a combination of sight and hearing loss – and has been shielding since the start of the pandemic.

With her care support reduced, Ms Punt has had to depend heavily on her husband, George, which she said is taking a toll on their relationship and has left her feeling frustrated and isolated.

Ms Punt said: “I feel an overwhelming sense of isolation all the time, I have spent weeks at a time in bed.

“I have felt more aware of my disability throughout the pandemic, and I get frustrated as I cannot rely on support in the same way.”

The study found a third of disabled people had less than an hour of interaction with someone else each day.

Some 70% said social isolation affected their mental health and wellbeing, while 40% said it impacted their physical health.

Around 35% said they believed the Government should prioritise tackling mental health issues caused by the pandemic, over the NHS (32%), economy (22%), and education (8%), once the vaccination rollout is complete.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of Sense, said: “Throughout the pandemic the needs of disabled people have been overlooked, and they have often felt forgotten.

“The government must recognise the severe impact the pandemic is having on disabled people and improve the support available, so they are not left isolated and cut off from society.”

Sense is encouraging the public to sign its pledge calling for more investment in services to tackle loneliness and offer mental health support for disabled people.

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