Solicitors acting for Coodes’ Mental Health and Community Care Team say its workload has more than doubled over recent months, with an exponential increase in cases as a direct result of the Covid pandemic.
At the start of Mental Health Week (9-15 May 2022), the South West legal firm believes loneliness and social isolation are two of the biggest issues facing elderly people and it is seeing a rise in the number of clients living alone in crisis or needing care with self-neglect issues. Loneliness is the theme for this year’s event.
Lawyers at Coodes are concerned at the number of families from Cornwall and Devon at ‘breaking point’ contacting them with concerns that relatives are being deprived of their liberty and being caught up in residential care or hospital settings unnecessarily or against their wishes.
Coodes, which has a specialist Mental Health and Community Care Team, said it is dealing with a 50 percent rise in the number of ‘deprivation of liberty’ cases, where clients have been moved from a hospital to a care home and are objecting to the change in their residential circumstances.
‘Deprivation of liberty’ is a legal term, which means that a person is not free to go out without permission or supervision. This can include when an individual is living at home or in an institution, such as a care home or hospital.
Poppy Phipps, Family Executive and Mental Health and Community Care Team Leader at Coodes said problems have escalated because of the pandemic, “Loneliness and social isolation has had a huge impact on our clients. Symptoms of mental health can be exacerbated and some of our elderly clients have really struggled when they are alone or lonely with issues of self-neglect or deterioration in their physical and mental wellbeing increasing. Having some form of a support network or social support is often really important.”
The firm says 80 percent of its caseload relates to clients having to stay in hospital for months at a time and being caught in the care system, without regular contact from family members. Evidence suggests that, in many cases, connections are harder to maintain – this was exacerbated by the lockdown of care homes during the pandemic.
Poppy said: “They might be miles from home or moved to a setting they are not happy with, or the family doesn’t feel it’s in their best interests, they’re not able to see them. Because of a lack of stimulation, families tell us they’re seeing deterioration in their relatives with loneliness being brought on by a feeling of abandonment. Some clients feel they are being deprived of their liberty. They’re stuck in a cycle and being lonely and isolated leads to loneliness and anxiety and this leads to depression. Studies have also shown a link between loneliness and dementia or other degenerative diseases – it can lead to much bigger problems, that perhaps might not have been there prior to the pandemic.”
The firm has seen an upturn in the number of clients presenting with hallucinations recently and the number of instructions that Coodes is receiving has grown, as the country emerges from the Covid pandemic, and the care system struggles with a lack of resources.
Poppy said: “We’re now picking up the pieces as people return to normal life, families are wanting to reconnect with loved ones and they’re looking at whether care homes or hospitals really are the best places for them to be. They might have been separated from their spouse and not able to support each other any longer and consequently there’s a noticeable deterioration in their physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing. Social or support networks might have been taken away and they’re unable to contact or connect with loved ones. These issues are a huge strain on families.”
As part of Mental Health Week, Coodes is reminding people to check in on elderly friends or relatives who might be feeling lonely.
Poppy said: “If you’re worried about a friend or relative being lonely, then the best thing you can do is pick up the phone, check in on them and have that conversation. One phone call or visit could really change someone’s day. It could make all the difference to them.”
Mental Health Week (9-15 May 2022) was started by the Mental Health Foundation 21 years ago. The foundation continues to set the theme, which this year is ‘loneliness’, as well as organise and host the week. It has grown to become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally each year.