Loneliness and COVID19

Loneliness and Driving Miss Daisy

For the uninitiated, Driving Miss Daisy may seem like a taxi service for the elderly, a wheelchair taxi service or a transport service for people living with a disability.

In reality, this could not be further from the truth.

As we approach the end of a very difficult year in terms of the COVID 19 pandemic, Driving Miss Daisy teams across the country have been hard at work, supporting individuals and families in combating the secondary, deadly, social disease caused by COVID 19,

That disease is loneliness.

So what is loneliness?

It takes many forms. The definition of loneliness is a sadness because one has no friends or companions, but can also mean a feeling of being remote, without human interaction or isolated, of being disenfranchised.

In reality it’s more insidious than that, you can be part of a very loving family, have people living close by who are willing to help, have a friend you can call on for a chat, but still feel lonely and isolated. You want to feel needed, you want to feel important, relevant, loved and that you are making a difference to someone else’s life no matter how small that difference actually is.

Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depressionanxietylow self-esteemsleep problems and stress related illnesses. [Ref Mind.org.uk]

Loneliness is not just a mental problem, it actually causes physical problems, increasing the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes amongst other problems.

Psychologists sometimes talk about 10 steps to recognising and dealing with loneliness.

  1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling and not a fact
  2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and reduces feeling of self worth.
  3. Recognise your self-deflating thoughts
  4. Make a plan to fight your mental and emotional habits of loneliness.
  5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others.
  6. Find others like you
  7. Always show up when you’ve arranged to meet others
  8. Be curious, try new things but don’t expect perfection.
  9. Kindness goes a long way
  10. Be persistent

This is all well and good but in real terms it’s impossible to do without external counselling or help. Our medical advisors tell us that up to 10% of their primary care appointments each week, are for people that just want to talk to someone.

Robert De Niro sums up the situation well in the film called The Intern.

these are some of his quotes from the film:

  • “I have lots of time on my hands”
  • “Life is a relentless effort in creativity”
  • “I have a feeling of nowhere to be”
  • “I’ve tried everything”
  • “I rely on my family way more than I should”
  • “I have a hole in my life that I need to fill”
  • “I need a place I can go every day”
  • “I want to be needed”
  • “Every time I come home, the feeling of nowhere to be, hits me like a ton of bricks”

If you close your eyes and hear those phrases, they could apply to anyone, not only the elderly.

So how does Driving Miss Daisy help?

Driving Miss Daisy started because a person recognised the fact that someone close to them needed to feel wanted, to feel needed and be in control. More importantly they didn’t want to be a burden on others, because that reduced their feelings of self-worth. The key point to note here is that they then did something about it.

These are natural human emotions and one that we will all feel when as we get older. We will feel it every bit as much as our parents did and as I get older and watch my children grow into adults, I understand why. Getting a taxi or a wheelchair-taxi is a functional activity that adds nothing to the emotional well-being of the service user, In fact, it often makes them feel even more of a burden because the taxi driver may be in a hurry to get their next fare. Wheelchair-taxis are often difficult or impossible to find.

So how does Driving Miss Daisy help combat the disease of loneliness? Why are we here?

To make a difference, to help people that can’t always help themselves.

But most importantly, to give people their lives back.

We give people back their dignity, their independence and enable them to live their lives as they want, with them being in control.

This doesn’t only apply to older people but parents with young children, people living with dementia or disability, people living with acute or chronic illnesses, people who choose not to drive or can’t drive for other reasons the list goes on and on. We enable almost anyone, no matter their age or condition, to get out and about and enjoy life to the full.

Within the next 8 years the proportion of the UK population that will be over 60 will rise from 31% to 36% and this equates to many millions people in the UK over 60. This figure rises constantly with time and an aging population.

The direct and indirect effects of loneliness are only going to grow.

As someone once said to me

If not us, who?

If not now, when?