Long-term self-isolation could see a severe decline in mental health

Gerard Barnes, CEO of Smart TMS, discusses how the circumstances surrounding Covid-19 can impact mental wellbeing and offers tips to the elderly and those in self-isolation

PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has announced the implementation of new, stringent measures of social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus in the UK, in what is considered to be the biggest national health intervention since World War II. This follows the news that a number of European countries are moving to full lockdown measures and are preparing to close their borders. 

POTENTIAL

Whilst such measures are important to stem the spread of the coronavirus, these measures also put millions at risk of experiencing severe mental health concerns, triggered by the potential of being separated from loved ones for long periods of time, loneliness the pressure of hygiene protocols, and fear of the virus itself, amongst other points of concern.

Many studies have showcased that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking, whilst 66 per cent of people with mental illness report feeling socially isolated compared with about 10 per cent of the general population.

Among the advice given by the PM was the recommendation that those aged over 70 and those suffering from relevant pre-existing health conditions should be completely isolated from all but essential social contact for up to 12 weeks, whilst anyone exhibiting symptoms or living in close proximity to someone who is, should self-isolate for a minimum period of two weeks. 

DEPRESSION

Now, mental health treatment specialists Smart TMS are focused on providing mental health advice and care for those experiencing mental health problems as a result of the coronavirus, given that depression and anxiety are also two of the most common mental health problems with around 1 in 4 people likely to experience bouts of depression and anxiety at any given point in their lives.

With this in mind, CEO of Smart TMS, Gerard Barnes, shares a variety of tips for anyone concerned about their mental health at this time, and provides particular advice on how individuals most at risk of long term isolation and social distancing can safeguard their mental wellbeing and seek support:

“It is certainly important to take the necessary precautions to protect one’s physical health given the circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19, but social isolation is one of the most impactful drivers behind the development of depression and other mental health problems, and can also have a significantly negative impact on one’s physical health also.

It is also more likely that the elderly in particular will suffer more seriously from the social distancing measures, as a greater proportion of the elderly population are less able to use technology and social media to maintain strong links and close contact with loved ones and friends. 

With this in mind, these are some of the tips from myself and the team at Smart TMS, to look after your mental wellbeing and help you and your loved ones cope with social distancing and self-isolation:

Conversations are not banned – speak frequently with your family and friends

The government has advised that all non-essential contact with friends and family should be avoided, and those over-70 or with pre-exisitng health conditions should be isolated for up to 12 weeks.
Therefore, staying in touch with your loved ones through social media, video calling or messaging is more valuable than ever – for elderly relatives who may not be au-fait with social media, we encourage regular phonecalls in order to help them feel supported, connected and reduce their feelings of loneliness.

Not being in close proximity to people can have a negative impact on your mood and energy levels, and it is therefore imperative that you maintain regular contact with loved ones to improve your mood and make it easier to deal with these stressful and lonely times. 

Stay Active

When self-isolating, it is important to make sure that you stay active. Although the public is advised to avoid spaces such as gyms, we would highly recommend engaging in moderate exercise at home, ideally for 30 minutes a day. Exercise is one of the best ways to fight symptoms of mental health problems, and people who are less physically active are more at risk of anxiety and depression.

“It is certainly important to take the necessary precautions to protect one’s physical health”

CEO of Smart TMS, Gerard Barnes

The Prime Minister has also announced that leaving your home to exercise outside is permissable, provided it is not in close contact with others – therefore, we encourage anyone living close to a park, forest, field or other open space, to engage in regular walks or exercise outside; this will certainly reduce the feelings of cabin fever, improve your mood and help you to sleep better.

Eat well and stay hydrated

Make sure to think about your diet carefully – this is vital to both your physical and mental health and maintaining a strong and healthy immune system. The better your physical condition and nutrition, the more prepared you will be to fight off any potential infections of your system. If your regular routine changes or you are less active than usual, your blood sugar levels are certain to affect your mood and energy levels, so be sure to eat healthily and drink enough water to ensure your body is in its best condition.”

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