Loneliness has hit many of us hard during the coronavirus lockdown, possibly in ways we might not have previously experienced. It brings into sharper focus people who have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves – who often feel lonely and isolated on a daily basis.
In our work at The Advocacy Project we see a great deal of loneliness and know from first-hand experience the devastating effect that this can have on people. It affects their self worth — the very core of their being.
Those with dementia, learning disabilities and mental health conditions are often excluded from the conversations and decision-making that affects their lives. They might not be able to make their own choices or take charge of their futures. This can mean individuals feel shut off from the rest of society; trapped in their own world.
The inpatient experience
For people with mental health conditions in inpatient wards, loneliness is compounded by stigma and shame. While everyone else on the outside world is carrying on with their lives, they feel shunned and forgotten about.
The Mental Health Foundation’s Fundamental Facts About Mental Health report says social isolation is a particular issue for those with severe mental health conditions. It also states that the quality of life reported by this group of people is worse than that experienced by many other vulnerable groups.
The care home experience
For older people living in care homes, their experiences of isolation can be devastating. It can affect their self worth.
Those living with dementia often lack the personal contact humans thrive on as they are unable to communicate with those around them. This can affect people’s wellbeing leading to anxiety and depression.
We often have a romantic idea of what life in a care home is like. You will have seen the sitcoms where older people have jolly japes and retain their fighting spirit. But the reality is often different. A Care Quality Commission inspector told me earlier this week that “loneliness is pervasive” and described the care home experience, for some people, as a “waiting room for death”.
In fact, research by the University of Bedfordshire shows that more than 80 per cent of older people with mental health problems feel lonely in their care home. People long for meaningful contact with others, rather than the cursory interaction with a care worker who’s rushing off elsewhere because of their heavy caseload.
Supporting people to access their rights
The Advocacy Project supports people living in care homes and mental health hospitals to have a say in their care and the services they receive.
Sophie, who has dementia, lost track of where all her financial savings were. She had been putting money into a bank account for several years to pay for her funeral arrangements, but she couldn’t recall where the money was. She was feeling worried and isolated, unsure who to turn to.
She spoke to The Advocacy Project and we were able to help her organise her finances. We made some enquiries and contacted the relevant people, and learnt that Sophie had a deputy who helped to manage the bank account.
With Sophie’s permission, we contacted the deputy with a request for a bank statement. Once we received the statement, we met Sophie to help her understand the figures.
“If I didn’t have The Advocacy Project, I wouldn’t have been able to find out where my money was. It has helped put my mind at rest.”
Before lockdown, we also met Jenny who has dementia and can’t speak. She can only communicate through singing. Until our advocate spent time getting to know her, the care home staff hadn’t realised that’s what she was trying to do. Up until this point, Jenny was feeling frustrated as she was unable to communicate with anyone.
The Advocacy Project provides free, independent and confidential advocacy for people such as Sophie and Jenny. Our advocates support these individuals to access their legal rights and speak up for themselves.
Judith Elizabeth Davey
Chief Executive Officer, The Advocacy Project