From 3 April to 3 May 2020, 5.0% of people said they feel lonely “often or always”, around 2.6 million people across Great Britain. Throughout this release, we refer to this group as “chronically lonely”. (ONS, 2020)
Before the pandemic started, we had our regular patients in A&E who came in to catch a break from their chronic loneliness. They would come with different symptoms each time, to have a bit of a company.
“Hey, doc, my chest hurts, and I feel so sick for the last few days.” “Ok, John, let’s have a chat and do some test on you. Would you like a cup of tea and the usual ham sandwich too?”
Deep into the COVID19 pandemic, our regular patients stopped visiting us. I started worrying for their well being and was wondering how they were coping with more devastating isolation than ever.
Now six months into the pandemic, we got a few of our regular patients back, but more so we see a massive rise in new cases of loneliness driven self-harm and suicidal ideations in all age groups. According to the Office for National Statistics, 30.9% of those asked said their well-being had been affected through feeling lonely in the past seven days, around 7.4 million people across Great Britain. We refer to this group as “lockdown lonely”. If we adjusted this to be representative of the entire Great British population, this would be equivalent to 14.3%.
One of my new patients who presented with an overdose stated that she has never felt so lonely as she does now in her late 60s, and starting over seems way too tiring at this age. “I have had a husband for 40 years, but every day I feel more lonely than ever.” She asked me multiple times, what good is marriage if you feel like a see-through wall, in the eyes of your partner. She wants to die, more than anything and every time she wakes up from her overdoses, she feels disappointed and angry.
I wondered what changed the last few months? After all, she was married to the same husband years before the pandemic started, and she never felt the need to take a handful of her pills, never to wake up.
Due to the isolation rules, she is no longer able to visit her friends and have nights out with the ladies. Her emotional support group collapsed around her, and all of a sudden, she found herself facing the man with whom she had nothing in common.
She is not alone, and my heart brakes to see so many people struggling with loneliness. People with or without families and friends. Youngsters, young adults or the elderly who are left by their families or those who still have families but don’t have deep connections with them. Every age group suffers from loneliness, and more than ever, I believe we need to address this issue not only as compassionate humans but as health care providers. We must look at this issue as the core pillar of diseases that we aim to heal daily. Because without social fulfilment and purpose, people have no reason to comply with their diabetic and hypertensive medications, let alone have the energy to face the needed daily exercise and cook up a nutritious meal.
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