Mental health advice for older people during the coronavirus outbreak

Page last reviewed: 11 September 2020

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

There has not been an experience like the current coronavirus outbreak in most of our lifetimes and not since the Second World War have there been such restrictions on public movements. 

So, it is not surprising that we are all feeling a bit scared. This is perfectly understandable, but it is still really important to look after your mental health if you are over 55 and living alone.

Things you can do to keep safe at this difficult time:

Be prepared

  • Keep useful contact numbers in an obvious place: GP, family, friends and plumber.
  • It’s important to get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns about your health. With the many routine health appointments being cancelled you may feel it’s not appropriate to contact your GP. This is not the case. GPs are still there to support your physical and mental health.
  • Think about who can help you over this period. This may be friends and family but also local and national organisations. The Samaritans are available 24/7 for free on 116 123 (UK).
  • Remember that it will take longer for your pharmacist to deliver supplies and the same for grocery deliveries, so try and plan ahead.

Stay in touch

  • Phone, landline, mobile, smartphone, computer, internet are potential sources of support and ways to get information about what’s available.
  • Think about writing a note to neighbours asking if they can help or if they can recommend someone or a service who can. If you have a neighbour’s phone number do give them a call, you might not need anything now, but you may in the future.
  •  A lot of neighbourhoods are setting up local support groups, ask people if they know about this and how you can join.

Find out what you are entitled to:

  • You may be entitled to an emergency food parcel
  • If you are considered as being in an “at risk” category, you should have received a letter from the NHS which gives you more information about how the Government can support you to stay at home during this time.  Please contact your GP if you feel you should have got this letter and nothing has arrived.

Little things to help if you are spending a great deal or all of your time by yourself:

  • A routine is helpful for giving your day a sense of order and make you feel in control.
  • Listen to music that you like and lets you remember different parts of your life.
  • Watch more films on TV or listen to the radio.
  • You may want to limit your intake of daily news about the virus as too much coverage can be scary and make you stressed.
  • Tidying something or doing outstanding chores can feel like a major achievement.
  • Keep movement in your day through some light exercise if you can.
  • Stay in touch with other people. This might be planning times over a week when you will call friends and family.

 Be careful to stay safe

  • This crisis brings the best and worst out in people.
  • People may not always be who they claim in person or online.
  • Always check for identification.
  • If something feels wrong don’t engage with it. Don’t let someone into your home who has no identification. Don’t reply to an email that’s asking you for personal information about you or your finances. Don’t give out your bank details to anyone in person or online.

For people in abusive relationships, the coronavirus situation may make things worse - there are already reports of a rise in the number of those in difficulty. Read our advice on staying at home and abusive relationships.

If you have serious concerns about yours or someone else’s safety contact the police by calling 999 to report emergencies or by calling 101 for non-emergencies. If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and then press 55. This will transfer your call to the relevant police force who will assist you without you having to speak.

What can other people in your community do?

Giving support to others is good for your mental health

  • Do reach out safely to neighbours who may be isolated.
  • You might want to knock on a neighbour’s door, explaining clearly who you are and where you live. Do stand back 2 metres to introduce yourself and perhaps get a contact number. Remember about social distancing for both of you.
  • Phone - WhatsApp groups and email are good ways to build connections and communicate safely about what help people might need and how best to arrange this.

Signposting

  • Local support – COVID-19 Mutual Aid Groups, local Age UK & Carer Organisations, local councils
  • Age UK - Advice Line is open from 8am-7pm 365 days a year. 0800 678 1174 (UK) e-mail: [email protected]
  • Independent Age - Helpline is available on 0800 319 6789 (UK)
  • National Mind info line is available 0300 123 3393 (UK) Monday-Friday 9am-6pm.
  • The Silver Line for a chat 0800 470 80 90 (UK) available 24/7 365 days a year.

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

We need your support to keep providing vital information during this time.

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Public Health England have developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.