'What about seniors' mental health?': Struggles with isolation and fear after almost a year of being entirely alone
MONTREAL -- Loneliness and fear are taking a toll on seniors' mental health, and some feel as if they’re being forgotten, said Ruth Pelletier, a 76-year-old mother of five who lives alone.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Pelletier has only left her condo a handful of times for essential medical procedures. Other than that, she does not go anywhere or see anyone.
Pelletier suffers from a variety of respiratory issues, and is confident that if she were to contract the virus, she would not survive.
The loneliness, fear and lack of social contact has taken a toll on Pelletier’s mental and emotional health.
“It’s different for seniors. We’re not even seeing people in a store. We don’t see our friends, we don’t even see our family up close and personal. Most of us are alone all the time,” Pelletier said.
On top of feeling lonely, Pelletier said constantly living in fear is exhausting. She wants to stay informed, but hearing about negative news coverage causes her a lot of stress, which has impacted her sleep quality and motivation.
When Pelletier sees younger people breaking lockdown restrictions and social distancing guidelines, she said she feels extremely frustrated.
“There has been so much talk about young people’s mental health and what we need to do to help, like opening up schools and what not,” Pelletier said. “But what about seniors' mental health? They’ve forgotten us.”
According to data collected by Statistics Canada, 27 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 reported that their mental health is worse now than prior to the pandemic.
Though it has been difficult being isolated from her friends and family, Pelletier said Zoom meetings and volunteer work have been her saving grace. Pelletier is the founder of Seniors Action Quebec (SAQ) and still organizes panels and events for the organization.
“Without my contact with people on Zoom, or my contact with friends on the phone, it would be pretty dismal,” Pelletier said.
To help all seniors experience a sense of connection and community, SAQ and the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) have partnered to create a web series called We’re All in This Together, in order to connect with isolated seniors across Quebec.
“The web series was designed to help seniors with isolation and just the stress of facing a pandemic that seems to be so much harder on the seniors community than the general population,” said Vanessa Herrick, executive director at SAQ and co-creator of the web series.
We’re All in This Together produces bi-weekly episodes on YouTube, and covers a range of topics decided by seniors. The episodes have featured guest speakers including bestselling author Louise Penney.
Though virtual connection is a lifesaver for some, Pelletier said this isn’t the case for all seniors, and she considers herself to be extremely lucky.
Not all seniors can afford a laptop, or know how to work Zoom, or even have a close connection with their family members.
Since the pandemic began, Pelletier has not been in close contact with her children and their families, but she has been able to see them through the window or at a distance.
“Not everybody has that. Can you imagine living alone and not having anybody to call or connect with?” Pelletier said.
Pelletier feels hopeful that the end is in sight, but she hopes Canadians will pay tribute to all the seniors’ who lives have been lost due to COVID, and that society doesn’t simply move on.
“We need to remember these people, this can’t be swept under the rug,” she said.