In Brief

Coronavirus: is loneliness a hidden lockdown killer?

Suicides and attempted suicides appearing to be increasing, police warn

A man whose grandfather killed himself following weeks under lockdown is urging people to “pick up the phone to your parents, grandparents and friends”.

In a tribute posted to facebook, James Parnaby said the death of 82-year-old Dennis Ward was one of the “hidden effects of coronavirus”.

Ward was found dead at his Birmingham home last week by his wife, Valerie, who said he had never had issues with his mental health before, reports The Times.

She added that her husband, a father of two and grandfather of three, “was someone who would go out every single day and always looked forward to seeing his family. The impact of this lockdown became too much for him.”

Ward’s death comes weeks after the Police Federation warned of “early indications” of a rise in suicides during lockdown.

Experts believe loneliness is a major factor in the increase in the number of people taking their own lives.

“Loneliness is a subjective experience, so it’s not always obvious to us,” Pamela Qualter, a University of Manchester professor of psychology, told The Guardian. “There are some people who are currently isolated who will not get lonely and there are others who will really struggle.”

The problem of loneliness has long been in danger of becoming a “plague”, says Time. Now, “its intersection with another pandemic - Covid-19 - is creating widespread alarm”, the magazine continues.

The extent of the danger was not immediately apparent, however.

Initially, the coronavirus outbreak and resulting lockdown “acted as a social catalyst, with an upsurge in the number of people checking in on their neighbours”, says Ian Hamilton, a lecturer at York University’s Department of Health Science, in an article for The Independent.

But this camaraderie gradually slipped. Two-thirds of people quizzed in a survey at the start of the quarantine said they had checked in on their neighbours, yet “this has fallen to just 52%”, Hamilton writes.

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For some people, a lack of real-world interaction has been mitigated by digital communication, with online tools allowing them to “reach out to more people than they ever did before”, says the BBC.

But technology alone is not the solution, says Professor Rory O’Connor of the University of Glasgow.

O’Connor, who conducts research on suicide, told The Guardian that “people are reporting elevated levels of anxiety, depression and stress. That’s why it’s so urgent that we identify who is vulnerable so we can put measures in place.”

For York University lecturer Hamilton, one vital measure to tackle the loneliness crisis is to create a more cohesive society. Yet “we are already returning to our old ways of looking out for number one”, he warns.

Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 in the UK and Ireland, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. Information on other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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