The Hidden Human Cost of Lockdown

The Hidden Human Cost of Lockdown

I had butterflies in my stomach two weeks ago as I settled in to watch the announcement from Number 10 that there was going to be a nationwide lockdown. I had made the pre-emptive decision to close Kindred a few days before, the business I had been pouring myself into over the last two years, because it felt like the right thing to do to prevent the spread of the virus – though it broke my heart to do so. No one knew what a lockdown would mean. For me, I had images of blackouts, looters breaking into Kindred and fights breaking out at Tesco. It turns out that for now, it’s more about determined Brits having BBQs in the park, and exasperated police reminding people “it’s not actually a holiday – go home”. For the majority of us, however, it’s about doing as we’re told and staying home to navigate new routines of fitness, work and family time, while trying to keep boredom at bay.

Before opening Kindred I was a qualified social worker, practising in South East London. I used to work in child protection, which in social work terms is the front line. A few days ago, I opened an email informing me that social workers who had left the register in the last two years would be re-registered on an emergency basis to help in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. That email pulled me momentarily out of my own all-consuming worries, and I started to reflect on the enormous challenge facing social workers and other care professionals right now.

As schools and offices are closed, and we’re told to stay home, many of us battle things like monotony, frustration and overindulging on too many slightly panic-bought snacks. It can be hard to remember that for many – too many – home does not feel like a safe or happy place. Schools can be havens for children who live in volatile homes, and their free school meal can sometimes be the only decent food they eat all day. People who fear their partners can no longer get respite by going to work and domestic abuse thrives behind closed doors. The stress of poverty and homelessness can make it feel impossible to keep you and your family safe. Mental health issues are fed by isolation, and we already know the elderly are caught between the fear of the current health risks and desperate loneliness.

Lockdown will result in an intensifying of what’s already there. If home is already hard, what must it be like for people when they know they’re not supposed to leave?

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Working with issues like domestic violence, poverty and mental ill-health is a social worker’s bread and butter. Tragically, they’re so commonplace that when I was a social worker, it started to feel like every person or family had something painful going on behind the scenes. Even in the work I do now, I’m continuously reminded that these issues don’t discriminate, and they are almost always hidden. It can be hard to know if someone is actually in serious need of help, and our social care service was stretched before the current public health crisis. Even though I left the profession to start Kindred, it has never failed to surprise me how much I’ve needed my social work hat on while building this business and this community. Everyone has pain, everyone has a story.

An incredible thing has been happening during this crisis though. Altruism and the desire to help has never been more pronounced. Communities of people are springing up, all offering free services and goods for each other, or support for those who are vulnerable and in need. Over 500,000 people signed up to volunteer for the NHS in 24 hours and retired medical professionals are returning to work without a second thought for the risk to their own health. It’s inspiring, and exactly what the world needs in these dark times.

As someone who built a business all about human connection, I am the first to say how thrilling I find it that many of us are using the time to rekindle our love for community. While being pulled out of our normal individual routines, we’re forced to look around us and think “what can I do to help that person”, “I wonder if I should reconnect with that person”. I’m a firm believer that community and connections are fundamental to what it means to be human and the key to how we progress as a society. But I am also conscious that while we are rediscovering the joy of community, there will be individuals and families on lockdown who have never been more isolated and alone. Social workers will be running at top speed, putting out as many fires as they can; but many people will slip through the net, perhaps because there aren’t enough support services available, or because no one knows that they need help.

Loneliness is one of my biggest worries and one of my biggest motivations in starting Kindred. Loneliness can feed into addiction, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns and can make life just feel a whole lot harder and a lot sadder than it needs to be. A lockdown for many will be a fairly ok and maybe even a pleasant experience, but for many others, it will be intensely lonely and alienating and distressing.

The antidote? Community. Being part of an active and engaged community means contributing a little of yourself (your time, your energy) and in return, you get a whole collective of people who have your back and catch you when you fall. For me, community is the best way to throw light onto loneliness, and can be the difference between feeling like no one sees you and no one cares, – to feeling like you’ll be missed if you don’t show up, and someone is going to come looking for you.

The government has taken the decisive action; and I believe the right action, to try and save the most lives in the wake of the coronavirus emergency. When we come out of this, we’ll know how many people we lost to the virus, and how many people recovered; how flat (or not flat) the curve was, and how many billions of pounds the government spent to support the economy in the process. But I suspect we won’t ever know the other hidden human costs of the virus and the measures that were put in place to prevent its spread.

Community is what holds people together in a crisis, in a way that governmental systems simply can’t. The truth is, we need both. Social workers, health workers and emergency service workers are heroically fighting fires as they spring up; and during these next few months, there’s going to be more to do than ever. But we all have a part to play. You may already be part of an incredible community, or you may still be looking for where you belong. But use the lockdown as the perfect excuse to reach out to people, throw light onto loneliness so it has nowhere to hide (whether it’s your own or someone else’s). And let’s agree now that we’re going to keep this up, even when things go back to normal, and not wait for the next crisis to start looking out for one another.

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Some advice for those who are worried about someone:

If I were going to offer advice to people who might be worried about a neighbour, a friend, a relative, or even a stranger – especially during this time when there are a lot of closed doors – I would say, don’t ever hold back from asking the question you want to ask; even if it feels intrusive or like its not your place. Saying something out loud; literally asking the question “are you being hurt at home?” “have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” – or whatever it is, can help illuminate something that has been in total darkness for a very long time. 

The second piece of advice is to help whoever it is who you’re worried about get the help they need – which sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many barriers there can be. It may be that they’re not in a position to ask for help themselves (either it’s not safe for them, or they’re emotionally not ready for it), then it’s up to you to make a call on their behalf. If you’re ever worried about the immediate safety of someone, the first thing to do is to call the police. If they’re safe for now but you’re concerned that they need support there’s a number of services you could call depending on the situation and I’ve listed a few of them below. We can always do something, and though all of our public services are overwhelmed right now, we have to trust that the system is there to help the people who need it, and trained professionals will be better equipped to deal with complex and potentially dangerous situations than you.

Some Helpful Contacts

  • In an emergency where someone may be in immediate danger, contact the Police on 999.
  • For Adult Mental Health Support, Family Support, Substance Misuse and Addiction Support or Child Protection Concerns, you should be able to find the relevant contact on your local council’s website.
  • Refuge: National Domestic Abuse Helpline | 0808 2000 247
  • Mind: Mental Health Information Line | 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans: Mental Health Emergency Support and Suicide Prevention | 116 123
  • Shelter: Urgent Housing Advice and Risk of Homelessness | 0808 800 4444
  • Age UK: Advice Line | 0800 678 1602
  • There are many local charities doing amazing things across the country so it’s always worth searching online to see what may be available in your local area.

Anna Anderson

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