Coronavirus: 'I can't be alone' the reality of self-isolation for one woman

19 March 2020, 12:45

Lucy told LBC News she was scared of being in isolation (stock photo)
Lucy told LBC News she was scared of being in isolation (stock photo). Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

With the prospect of a lockdown looming as the coronavirus pandemic slowly worsens many people are fearful over having to spend time alone.

LBC News spoke to one person who said they were "terrified" of being alone due to Government measures to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Lucy* is an alcoholic, day-to-day she says nobody she works with knows of her "internal battle" with booze but she attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings to help her focus on avoiding drinking.

"My whole day is focused on getting to an AA meeting, it's the only time I feel like I can relax," she said.

Read more: Coronavirus - Who should self-isolate and for how long?

Lucy told LBC News she has been in recovery for four years and has been to a meeting as often as twice a day at times in a bid to help conquer her battle with alcohol.

"When I am stressed I go to more meetings to help me cope, I am terrified I won't be able to go, and this is a stressful time," she said.

But due to proposed coronavirus control measures Lucy's meetings could be scrapped as the public are advised to avoid gatherings.

Read more: Coronavirus symptoms - What are they and what is the risk of Covid-19 in the UK?

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In the first of his daily No 10 press conferences, on Monday the Prime Minister called on people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres and to avoid all non-essential contacts and travel.

"Does that mean my meetings will be cancelled? I can't not go to them."

Lucy said her concern was if she was forced to self-isolate not only would she miss out on Alcoholic Anonymous meetings she is worried she would slip back into drinking.

"I don't know what I would do without meetings, they are the biggest part of my day and they are all that keep me away from drinking, I can't be alone."

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

She told LBC News she didn't think a Skype meeting would be the same, and in her shared flat she didn't think she would have the privacy she needed.

"A virtual meeting would just end up with my housemates finding out about my addiction."

Lucy said contact is a big part of Alcoholic Anonymous meetings "they normally start with a hug, but it's the closeness I need, being able to share space with people like me and being close to the people at the meetings in a way I can't be with other people."

Under the latest Government advice, anyone living in a household with somebody who has the symptoms of a persistent cough or fever was told to isolate themselves for 14 days.

Special guidance will be issued by the NHS for the 1.4 million people most at risk from the disease - including the elderly with underlying health conditions - on further measures they need to take to "shield" themselves.

Mr Johnson said the measures were needed as the UK was approaching the "fast growth part of the upward curve" in the number of cases.

"Without drastic action, cases could double every five or six days," he said.

Read more: Family self-isolated due to 'people’s fears' over coronavirus

*Lucy asked to be identified by a pseudonym to respect AA's anonymity pledge

But it's not just alcoholics who are at risk, there are growing concerns for OCD, depression and anxiety sufferers that the British government will soon implement more dramatic measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

As the likelihood for government-imposed quarantines and self-isolation increases with each day, people suffering with mental health issues are at a much greater risk of seeing their symptoms increase in severity, triggered by the potential of being separated from loved ones, the pressure of hygiene protocols, and fear of the virus itself, amongst other points of concern.

The NHS estimates that between 1-2% of people in the UK suffer with severe OCD, but the rates of people who suffer intermittently with bouts of OCD or severe anxiety in any given year can be as many as 20%, or 1 in 5 people.

Depression and anxiety are also two of the most common mental health problems with around 1 in 4 people likely to experience bouts of depression and anxiety at any given point in their lives.

The stress caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 can seriously exacerbate these conditions, leading to an increase in compulsive behaviour, extreme self-isolation, panic attacks, uncontrollable anxiety, amongst other consequences.

Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialists, Smart TMS, said it's important to safeguard one’s mental health, and doing what you can to support friends, family and loved ones as the situation develops.

"It is certainly important to take the necessary precautions to protect one’s physical health given the circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19, but there is now a real threat of a serious mental health crisis alongside the potential physical effects, particularly to those already suffering with chronic anxiety, depression or OCD. "

While self-isolation is very much an important action to take to stem a widespread outbreak, the lack of human contact and “cabin-fever” effect of self-isolating can take a toll on one’s mental health; with this in mind, here are some tips on how to look after your mental wellbeing in the event of self-isolation:

Check in on your loved ones

While you may not be able to pay a visit to your friends and family if widespread quarantine and self-isolation measures are introduced, staying in touch with your loved ones through social media, video calling or messaging is more valuable than ever. Not being in close proximity to people can have a negative impact on your mood and energy levels, and it is therefore imperative that you maintain regular contact with loved ones to improve your mood and make it easier to deal with these stressful and lonely times.

Stay Active

When self-isolating, it is important to make sure that you stay active. Whilst it is impossible to go to a gym and inadvisable to exercise in a public space, we would highly recommend engaging in moderate exercise at home, ideally for 30 minutes a day. Exercise is one of the best ways to fight symptoms of mental health problems, and people who are less physically active are more at risk of anxiety and depression.

Eat well and stay hydrated

Make sure to think about your diet carefully - this is vital to both your physical and mental health. If your regular routine changes or you are less active than usual, your blood sugar levels are certain to affect your mood and energy levels, so be sure to eat healthily and drink enough water to ensure your body is in its best condition."