Mental health advice for older people during the coronavirus outbreak

20th Dec 2021
Mental health in later life
COVID-19

Guest blogger

Most of us haven't experienced anything like the coronavirus pandemic in our lifetimes. So it's not surprising if you feel scared, exhausted, vulnerable or simply fed-up. 

Make sure you take care of your physical and mental wellbeing. You don’t have to do it by yourself – there are people and organisations out there to help you.

Ways to look after yourself 

Be prepared

  • Keep a list of useful phone numbers in an obvious place: GP, family, friends, plumber, electrician, taxi company, care worker, etc.
  • Contact your GP if you have any concerns about your health. You may have felt it’s not appropriate to use the NHS during the pandemic, but this is not the case. Other illnesses haven’t gone away, and your health is just as important as before. It’s always best to get help early rather than let something develop into a bigger issue.
  • Think about who can help you: not just friends and family but also local and national organisations (our signposting list below has some ideas). Samaritans are available 24/7 for free on 116 123 if you need emotional support.
  • Plan ahead if you need a grocery delivery or your pharmacist to deliver supplies – they may take longer to arrive than usual.

Stay in touch

  • Think about putting a note through your neighbours’ doors if you need help: they may be able to help you themselves or recommend a person or a service who can. If you have a neighbour’s phone number, give them a call or a text: you might not need anything now, but you may in the future.
  • If you haven’t made video calls before, think about learning how to: seeing a familiar face can be a big mood boost. Ask friends or family for help – this may be just the thing a younger relative could help you with. Age UK has a handy guide to making video calls with different apps.
  • Many neighbourhoods have local support groups. Ask your neighbours about any or search for a local mutual aid group.

Look after yourself physically

  • Stay active, even if you can’t leave your home. Moving around less can reduce your mobility, strength and balance. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has come up with some simple exercises to help older people stay active at home. Age UK has a range of ways to keep your body moving, whether you’re not active at all or want to increase what you currently do.
  • It can be easy to stop looking after yourself if your mood is low. You may have stopped washing, taking care of your appearance or tidying your house. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. It isn’t your fault and there is support available. Speak to your GP or someone you trust about how you’re feeling. If you’re struggling to cope day-to-day, ask your local council for a care needs assessment to find out if there are services or equipment that could help.
  • If you used to go to a gym or leisure centre but have been worried about going back, call them up and ask what they’re doing to keep people safe. If you’re worried about going when it’s busy, ask about their quieter times. But only do what you’re comfortable with – don’t rush back if it doesn’t feel like the right time. There are plenty of other ways you can stay active.

Ask for help

  • Contact NHS Volunteer Responders if you need help with shopping, getting prescriptions collected, or simply a regular chat on the phone.
  • If you’ve been bereaved during the pandemic, you may not have had the support you needed to say goodbye or grieve in the ways you needed. Independent Age has information on coping with a bereavement during this time, including organisations to contact for support.
  • For people in abusive relationships, the coronavirus situation may make things worse. 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 on 999 to report an emergency or 101 for non-emergencies. If you’re 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.
  • Our signposting list below has more suggestions of helpful organisations.

Little things to help if you are spending more time by yourself

  • Many of us have felt lonelier during the pandemic, especially if we live alone. Make time for regular phone calls, whether that’s with friends, family or telephone befriending service such as The Silver Line.
  • 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.
  • Having the radio on or a podcast playing can provide good background noise or a familiar voice if you’re feeling lonely.
  • Consider limiting your intake of daily news about coronavirus. Too much coverage can be scary and make you stressed.
  • Tidying something or doing outstanding chores can feel like a major achievement.

Avoid scams

  • Some scammers are taking advantage of people’s fears about coronavirus, for example by offering to arrange a COVID-19 vaccine for a fee, trying to enter your home on the pretence of testing you for COVID-19, or asking for a donation to the NHS. Always ask people for identification and check the credentials of anyone contacting you. Ask for more time before giving away money or personal information – anyone who tries to rush you if likely to be a scammer. Independent Age has more information about scams, including coronavirus ones.
  • 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.
  • Anyone can fall for a scam – it has nothing to do with your intelligence, age or self-worth. Don’t feel embarrassed if it happens to you. Make sure you report it and get the help you need. You can contact Action Fraud for help on 0300 123 2040.

What can other people in your community do?

Supporting others is good for your mental health

  • Reach out safely to neighbours who may be isolated. You could put a note through their letterbox or knock on their door. If you visit, explain clearly who you are and where you live. Stand two metres back to introduce yourself and perhaps get a contact number.
  • WhatsApp groups and email are good ways to build connections, share what help people might need and decide how best to arrange this.

Signposting

Make a donation

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.
Donate now
A group of elderly people sat together and smiling