Covid-19 left my brother feeling isolated and alone
Richard’s brother has lived with schizophrenia for over 50 years. As he has never engaged in mobile phones or technology, Richard relied on weekly phone calls to keep in contact with him during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although he was able to collect his midday meal from the care home nearby, it was difficult to have visitors during lockdown and he was left alone for large periods. In this blog, Richard explains more about the isolation felt by his brother – and many others living with severe mental illness – throughout the pandemic.
Life during the last two years has been difficult for everyone during the pandemic, but especially so for those who have been in solitary isolation. My brother, who has schizophrenia, is now in his sixties and has been living in a care home for about thirty years.
A few years ago, he moved to independent living in a house owned by the care home. The home provides one hot meal per day, and he makes his own breakfast and supper and care visitors come in twice a day to check everything is fine. Initially he was sharing a house but then the other resident passed away and he was living on his own but accessing an art club every morning run by the care home. A local friend visited him every fortnight and his brothers, who live in Cheshire, Inverness and Dublin took turns to visit him and met up for a birthday weekend every year.
In March 2020 everything changed, and visitors were (understandably) not allowed, the daily art club stopped, and he had to collect his midday meal from the care home and bring it back to his house. He was on his own in the house with little understanding of the situation apart from the daily warnings about COVID which were very worrying for him. It was a difficult and testing time. We kept in touch via weekly phone calls and letters, but we felt powerless to do any more. We asked if he could join the small ‘bubble’ of people who met for art therapy but as he was separate from the main part of the care home this was not allowed. He suffers from type 2 diabetes but fortunately he managed to stay healthy and avoid COVID.
To all extents and purposes, he is living in a 1970s world when communication is via letter and the occasional phone call. This has made isolation more difficult for him and others like him who are not able to benefit from modern communications technology
For many people, lockdown was to a certain extent mitigated by the fact that they could have Zoom meetings with their family and communicate via mobile phones and tablets. However, my brother has never engaged with technology; he does not have a computer and will not use a mobile phone. To all extents and purposes, he is living in a 1970s world when communication is via letter and the occasional phone call. This has made isolation more difficult for him and others like him who are not able to benefit from modern communications technology. Also, my brother has not been in employment for many years, so activities like the care home art club are very important to him as he enjoys painting and sends his artwork to his family on a regular basis.
My brother’s medical condition is stable thanks to daily doses of Clozapine, though he does have monthly blood tests and he has been quite resilient over time having developed schizophrenia about 50 years ago. His philosophy is expressed when he says, “I’ll just have to get on with it” and his expectations of daily life are fairly modest. If this had happened when he was much younger and in the initial stages of his condition, then life would have been very hard and would no doubt have led to a deterioration in his mental and physical health. I’m sure this has been the situation for many people with mental illness.
Now things are improving we are able to visit again, and he is able to join in with the social activities. However, the last two years are not something that we, and especially he, would wish to repeat.