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The UK is currently in its third national lockdown – a measure designed to help the nation stem the spread of the disease while the vaccine is rolled out. However, an unfortunate consequence of continued lockdowns is the detrimental effect that stay-at-home restrictions are having on people’s well-being.

That’s why The Telegraph is today launching Mental Health Emergency, a campaign to keep the nation’s mental wellbeing in the spotlight. We’ve spoken to five people that represent a cross-section of the country about their struggles during the pandemic. 

‘I feel as though I’m in prison and locked in my cell’

David Lyons, 85, retired railways technical officer, Luton




Credit: Georgie Scott

I live in a sheltered accommodation flat and have been alone ever since my wife passed away a decade or so ago. I have been completely housebound during the pandemic. Apart from my carers, who visit four times a day and have been absolute angels, I haven’t seen another soul. I have two children who live abroad but we haven’t seen each other for more than a year.

Prior to the pandemic, I had never previously suffered with my mental health. I was diagnosed with a neurological condition in 2003 which affects my mobility and makes it impossible to hold a knife and fork and a pen. But until Covid-19 I always used to go out three times a week.

On Sundays I went to church and then later in the week I would go for two lunches in the town centre, one with the Salvation Army and another with the church. Those trips were a lifeline to me. I hate being confined to my small flat.

I have done the very best I can over the past few months but it has been very difficult. I feel so isolated, as though I’m in prison and locked in my cell.

The Government has made some very serious moves introducing lockdowns and it is affecting people’s mental health – my own has declined a lot. I haven’t can’t afford a computer so I rely on the phone – I just feel cut off.

I haven’t been able to get any face-to-face appointments at the GP. My last appointment was 14 months ago. I have relied on Age UK who have given me advice on keeping in touch and other assistance.

I spent Christmas by myself – it was the first one I had ever spent alone. I arranged a delivery of a meal that needed to be microwaved but I couldn’t even face eating it. Now when I think about what lies ahead I am seriously worried. The mental health impact from this will be in the millions.

As told to Joe Shute

‘I have cried every day of this lockdown’

Jemma Scanlan, 41, mother-of-three, St Albans  



I feel anxious and overwhelmed pretty much all of the time. I’ve never cried so much in my life – every day during this third lockdown. I always thought that I was really strong minded but I’m discovering that I’m not and that is depressing in itself. 

Everyone knows what “mum guilt” feels like, but this is worse. I’ve got Samuel, eight, and Poppy, five, to homeschool and then my 10-month-old, Max around my ankles all day. He was born a few weeks before the first lockdown – it was easier then because he slept a lot but now he needs to be entertained while I’m trying to get the older two to do their schoolwork.

I feel really bad complaining because I know everyone is in the same boat. And we are actually one of the lucky ones because my husband is in a full-time job.

I think the only way to describe it is a “s—show”. I set up my business, Little Active People, two years ago, to help parents get their children off screens doing something different, like den building or cake baking. The irony is that this is a website to help parents like me – but I have no time to work on it until the evening, by which time I’m exhausted.

I haven’t contacted a GP about how I’m feeling and wouldn’t even think to. I’m just hoping it’s going to pass. But the paranoia has already set in. They’ve told us we’ll be doing this until February half-term but I think most parents have accepted that we are probably going to be homeschooling until Easter. The Government talks about seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s day three of week two and I am already feeling like this.

As told to Camilla Tominey

‘The constant anxiety is crippling and there’s a six-month wait for support’

Yelena Zylko, 22, first year psychology student at Sussex University



Being a student this past year has been a bit like being some sort of pariah. We have been blamed for rising Covid rates in university towns, accused of holding illegal parties and breaking every conceivable rule. 

And then there’s the old fail-safe – we’re snowflakes who can’t cope with a few months of life being a bit difficult. All the while, we get further into debt paying for accommodation we’re not using and degrees which we are, for the most part, having to teach ourselves. 

I live off campus with five other girls, in a house I am still paying rent for. The university has asked us not to return, but I know that my mental health will suffer hugely if I don’t. I’m planning on driving back to Sussex alone next Wednesday before term starts on Jan 25. When I’m at the house, I’ll only leave occasionally to get food or for exercise, just as I would at home. 

Most of my friends are also planning to return, but some are nervous about the rules, and not everyone can drive back so they’re worried about trains. 

The constant anxiety is crippling, and First Year is hard enough as it is. I have barely met anyone beyond my household – my tutors, I’ve only seen on Zoom and have had very little contact with. 

University mental health resources are minimal at the best of times. Now, you contact the support services and you’re told there is a six-month wait. There is so much uncertainty about how long this is going to continue.

As told to Eleanor Steafel

‘Home working is having harmful long term consequences’

Sir John Timpson, 77, chairman of Timpson’s Shoe Repairs, Cheshire




Credit: Paul Cooper/The Telegraph

We all coped pretty well in the first lockdown, when colleagues told me it was nice to spend more time with their families without the commute. But the latest isolation is causing more deep-seated problems. People need human interaction. 

For most, the daily routine of going into work is a crucial part of well-being. When we reopened our Timpson offices between lockdowns, coming back in was optional. Bar a few, almost everyone decided they wanted to return. Life can be tough for colleagues on furlough. One said, when we started reopening shops, that “being asked to go back to work was the best news all year”. Another said it kept her mind occupied after weeks of staying at home simply worrying about her dad who was in a care home with dementia. People feel directionless, sitting at home with nothing to do. One thing that’s really affecting mental health is the constant uncertainty caused by the changing restrictions: people have no idea whether they’ll be in work the following week or at home. 

We try to keep in touch, with my son James recording a video update every week telling everyone what is going on now and what we think will happen next.

I have often struggled with depression myself, so I know how important it is to care about the mental health of my team.

As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde

‘I’m becoming too frightened to leave my front door for a walk’

Loretta Smith, 67, widow and shielder, Surrey




Credit: Paul Grover

I knew it would be a long slog when I received my letter from the NHS in March advising me to shield. I usually see my son and daughter every week, and did not like the prospect of spending a few months without them. But I had no idea then how long it would last, or just how draining it would be.

I’ve always been a fairly positive person. My husband, Tony, died last January after a 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s. It was difficult, but I stayed upbeat thanks to my full, action-packed life, including caring for my three grandchildren. In 2010, after the first of two kidney transplants, which saw me briefly put on life support, a hospital counsellor told me, “To be fair, you seem fine.”

Lockdown has certainly tested that positivity. It wasn’t so bad in the spring, when everything still felt like a novelty. I managed to occupy myself with solo walks in quiet spots, and in the summer I was delighted to see my children and grandchildren a handful of times, in socially distanced visits in my back garden.

Now, everything feels much more bleak, and it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed by loneliness. I find myself glued to the news, watching the death count climbing, and I’m becoming too frightened to leave my front door for a walk. Part of me wants to seal myself away until I receive my vaccine. I hope that day comes soon.

As told to Luke Mintz

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