A charity has called on the Government to introduce more mental health support and assistance to people who are shielding – saying isolation is fast becoming unbearable for many of those staying at home due to greater risk from COVID-19.
This World MS Day, Saturday 30 May, the theme is #MSConnections, looking at ways to prevent loneliness and build community connection. But it also marks two months since over 1.5 million people in the UK – including thousands with multiple sclerosis (MS) – were told to shield at home by the government, and begin a minimum of 12 weeks in isolation.
The MS Society is now hearing that a long-term lockdown feels increasingly unsustainable for many affected.
Martin, 53, lives in Somerset and has the progressive form of MS.His symptoms include spasms and mobility issues. Martin lives on his own, and his family live over 50 miles away.
“I haven’t seen or spoken to another human being for ten days. I used to leave the house once or twice a week and drive somewhere, but now I can’t do that. Every day is the same now – I get up in the morning and sit in a chair for the whole day, then go to bed 12 hours later. I missed Easter because I didn’t even know what day it was.
“I only live in my head, nowhere else, and as time progresses it’s getting so much harder. I feel like I’m collapsing in on myself.”
MS damages nerves in your body and makes it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think. Although having MS in itself does not increase your risk of getting COVID-19, it can mean an increased risk of infection or severe complications.
The MS Society surveyed over 2,300 people living with MS about the pandemic – 14% said they are feeling lonely, and over a third (35%) said they are anxious as a result. Seven percent are going days without speaking to anyone.
Marlene, 66, lives in Stirling and has the relapsing form of MS. She has been shielding at home for over two months.
“I’m a strong person but I’m struggling at the moment. I have never felt so alone and the longer this goes on the more distant I feel from everything. All the classes and activities I enjoy have been cancelled, and my social life and support structures just disappeared overnight.
“My body isn’t behaving itself right now either, so I’m coping with that while being confined to the house with no support. My mental state is beginning to fray at the edges.”
With still no end in sight, the MS Society has urged the Government to introduce more mental health support and assistance – the need for which was acknowledged in its 60-page recovery document, but not provided.
Nick Moberly, Chief Executive at the MS Society, said:
“Loneliness disproportionately affects over 130,000 people living with MS in the UK, and social barriers continue to leave many feeling isolated – so this crisis is amplifying what is already a real problem for our community.
“Shielding is necessary and will be until we can better limit the spread of coronavirus. We’re doing everything we can to help but it’s vital that the government acknowledges – and takes steps to address – the potentially extreme effect of extended self-isolation. Absolutely critical to this will be better mental health support for everyone who needs it. It’s appalling that vulnerable people have been left to deal with this on their own for so long.”
Time to Chat – a service supporting virtual meetings for people with MS, and Keep in Touch – a service designed to help those who might not see anyone day to day with a regular check-in phone call, are two of the new emotional support services the MS Society has developed to replace its vital face-to-face options, which have had to stop during the lockdown.
For more information visit mssociety.org.uk/ms-never-alone. Anyone affected by MS who needs support can call the charity’s free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000.