COVID-19 is proving to have far reaching effects in our society and it’s now becoming apparent that the effects of COVID are beyond those of the illness itself.
Concern is growing around the mental health impact on those directly and indirectly effected by COVID -19; the NHS workforce; the elderly; and the visually impaired.
The Office of National Statistics has revealed that anxiety levels have increased dramatically, with half of British adults claiming they felt anxious about lockdown. Those who are most vulnerable to the virus have been especially affected by increased, COVID-related anxiety.
The Numbers Are In: Poor Vision Is Linked To Loneliness
A Specsavers’ survey of 2,330 people in the UK has found there to be a link between poor eyesight and loneliness. The study found that 51% of people who said they have poor vision have felt lonely during the pandemic compared to 38% of people who said they have good vision.
It revealed that 43% of those who are shielding have felt lonely at least some of the time, with those over 65 years old more susceptible to loneliness.
Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Network, whilst writing for the National Health Executive magazine, acknowledges that, “As we recognise the best of the NHS and its response to the COVID-19 crisis we must not forget that for mental health the peak has yet to come.”
During previous widespread viral outbreaks such as SARS and Swine flu (H1N1), there was an increase in stress symptoms, incidences of PTSD, depression and adjustment disorders.
The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Martin Marshall, has said that, “We are already seeing the huge toll that this pandemic is taking on people’s health, mentally as well as physically, but we also know that a significant number of patients have chosen not to use the NHS during the pandemic, perhaps for fear of getting the virus, or because they don’t want to burden the health service during a time of crisis and emergency.
“This will inevitably create a huge surge in mental health conditions, including cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is crucial that GPs and their teams have as much support as possible to help them pick up the pieces and care for their patients in a post-COVID world, with all it will bring.”
It’s clear that COVID-19 has placed enormous pressure on the entire health and care system. But how are we preparing to recover from what’s beyond physical? Some organisations are tackling this challenge, in addressing the mental health need for NHS staff, the elderly and those with vision loss.
It’s the workforce that’s sustained the NHS during this crisis, and it will be those same staff who continue to meet our needs as a nation as we begin to deal with what comes next. Supporting the wellbeing of our NHS staff has never been more important, which is why many have taken to campaigning for ‘NHS Reset’ via #NHSReset on social media.
The campaign seeks to “galvanise members from across the NHS Confederation and wider partners in health and social care…. to influence forthcoming national strategies, including from NHS England and NHS Improvement, and their priorities for a reset.” Read more about how the NHS Reset aims to create an environment for NHS staff to thrive.
There are various developments to aid those who’ve been directly affected by COVID-19.
One such plan is the NHS is launch of an online rehabilitation service. The new on-demand ‘Your COVID Recovery’ service forms part of plans to expand access to COVID-19 rehabilitation treatments for those who have survived the virus but still face problems with breathing, mental health problems or other complications. It will support the tens of thousands of people who are suffering long-terms effects of COVID-19, delivered either online or over the phone by doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.
The service’s launch follows the building of a new Seacole rehabilitation centre to help those most seriously affected by the deadly virus, with similar facilities expected to open across the country. 
Furthermore, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is creating new e-learning material, taking material usually used for veterans with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adapting it for the use of family doctors with their patients in the form of new resources. This will include vlogs, screencasts and a PTSD screening test. To help patients come to terms with the pandemic and its aftermath, in readiness for a potential notable increase in patients with the condition as a result of COVID-19.
As a result of isolation and shielding, there’s a growing trend of loneliness and depression amongst the elderly.
“Isolation and loneliness cannot be underestimated. It can promote feelings of hopelessness, which can cause and worsen cases of depression.” Says Parminder Sandhu, Mental Health Services Manager for Health Exchange as she writes for the National Health Executive magazine.
“There is still much to be learnt about loneliness. However, for older people or those that live alone, instead of using clinical resources, it is far more effective to use local support systems.” She continues.
“Whilst many community programmes are currently being run remotely, they are still highly effective in tackling loneliness.
“In the next decade, 7.5 million people are expected to be treated through NHS personalised care models such as this.”
Blind and partially sighted people are used to navigating a complicated world. But coronavirus, with its social distancing measures – which are nearly impossible to follow for blind and partially sighted people – has complicated not only how they interact with the outside world, but it has also limited their access to food.
Access to food during lockdown has been an issue for three quarters of blind and partially sighted people and 21% said they rationed food, according to research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
David Clarke, director of services at the RNIB, said: ‘We have received hundreds of calls to our helpline during lockdown from blind and partially sighted people about challenges accessing supermarkets and we are concerned this is just the tip of the iceberg.’
The Macular Society has compiled a list of companies that are prioritising the needs of people with sight loss in order to help them navigate through these unprecedented times. You can view the list here.
Blind and partially sighted people are finding social distancing measures nearly impossible to follow. A study of 325 people with sight loss in Wales found that one in four find it difficult to follow social distancing.
The RNIB has been running a the ‘World Upside Down’ campaign in order to highlight the considerations we must all make for blind and partially sighted people whilst social distancing.
You can start by taking the RNIB’s quiz to find out more about the challenges faced by people with sight loss and how you can help.
The RNIB has released some resources to aid those with sight loss in managing their mental wellbeing during coronavirus. The charity has also called for the government to provide specific guidance for blind and partially sighted people about social distancing, as well as guidance for businesses and employers on how to make social distancing measures accessible.
Your mental health is just as important as washing your hands
Being mentally well means that you have enough resilience to manage your day-to-day life effectively. Keeping yourself mentally positive during these difficult times can be challenging, but your mental health really is as important as washing your hands.
“Taking care to prevent any feelings of unhappiness during the COVID-19 crisis will help boost your immune system and give you the best chance of staying healthy.” Says Nuno Albuquerque, Group Treatment Lead, UK Addiction Treatment Group.
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.” – Publilius Syrus
It might be that during the coronavirus crisis, more and more people than ever before may experience feelings of stress and anxiety. But again, being kind and helping others is key to relieving these negative feelings. Being kind naturally focuses the mind on someone else, allowing you to experience and think about something not related to your own stressors in life or feelings of anxiety and apprehension. This experience of being ‘outside yourself’ can better equip you to handle your own stressful situations and to keep anxiety at bay.
It will be a long while before we can eradicate this virus with a vaccine, until then, let’s kill it with kindness. Most importantly, please ensure to extend this kindness and patience to those that are visually impaired.
For those in isolation, or who have been shielding, some have found solace in online communities. From forums, to social media, and treatment groups.
As an example, the Macular Society has been providing support online and over the phone to all of those who rely on vital services such as peer support groups and telephone befriending.
One group leader said: “They are making a ‘huge difference’ to members and for many it is the highlight of their week. Several live alone and just talking makes them feel less isolated and afraid.”
It’s not over but we are making great strides. All in in all, there are many facets that have yet to be addressed on the road to recovery from COVID-19. What is clear is that we must be in this together, taking into consideration thee needs of our NHS, those most vulnerable and each of our individual unique needs.
If you’re feeling lonely and have no one to call, there are several available helplines that you can reach out to, where you’ll be able to speak to someone else.
If this doesn’t affect you or has affected you in the past and you wish to help someone who is going through a difficult time, you can call to volunteer. Sometimes, all we need is someone to speak to.
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