A little kindness at Christmas will go a long way

by Rose Barrett
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Rose Barrett

For Adrian Henchy, a clinical nurse specialist in the care of older people, at the Mater Hospital, the impact of the Covid pandemic is evident – and significant.

As Christmas approaches, he encourages people to give a little thought to their elderly neighbours and especially persons who live alone or may live with mental health issues.

“Christmas is a joyful time for most families but it can be a dreadfully lonely time for many. The pandemic has had a major impact on our youngest and oldest in society. Everyone in between has learnt to cope somewhat better.

“Put simply, the important relationships between grandparents and grandchildren has been hugely damaged during the restrictions and repeated lockdowns.”

He continued: “Children don’t really understand why they had to be separated but they accepted they just couldn’t see Granny and Grandad. However, nobody realised it would be for this long.”

A councillor on Fingal County Council for Donabate-Portrane, it is through his work at the Mater that he has seen the alienation and loneliness first hand.

“Older people are amazingly resilient; they have the full cycle of life behind them, they’ve built up strength and resilience but no one realised how extended terms of isolation would impact.

“Not being able to go to the local shops for a newspaper or provisions; not being able to attend mass or go to church, or meet friends at the local friendship or active retirement clubs – or indeed, to have a quiet pint in the local pub, or a meal out.

“All these ‘normal’, social engagements which involve healthy interaction with friends and family, – the pandemic has curtailed them over the past 22 months.”

For Nurse Henchy, the loss of confidence in older people is the real impact.

“The fall out is that many older people lose their confidence, as they are spending too much time on their own. When you’re younger, it’s easier to recuperate and recover but not so easy when you’re older.”

Younger persons also have the advantage of being able to communicate via social media, on a number of platforms. Not every person living alone may be adept in social media skills, or indeed, even had broadband services.

“Christmas is so important, it’s so joyous, so happy. But for others, it’s anything but. It can be lonely for people living on their own, especially older persons.    

“Dublin residents need to look out for their neighbours, to make contact with someone living alone or isolated through fear of Covid contamination. All it takes is a little kindness for someone to feel they are not alone.

“Make that phone call or send that text; something as simple as dropping in a card, or chatting to your neighbour through the front window can mean so much to someone who might feel alienated and forgotten.”

Nurse Henchy noted “We’re all more aware of mental health issues than before. Mental and physical wellbeing are inter-connected, you have to have a positive balance in both to be healthy and happy.”

Eating Disorders

For persons living with eating disorders of which there are many, the situation is causing huge change, anxiety, and disruption to ‘normal’ lives and normal routines. “For those with an eating disorder (ED), this disruption is very likely experienced as upsetting and scary,” says Bodywhys, the national voluntary Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, living with an ED is already full of fear and panic, and we know that the current situation has the potential to exacerbate this.”

Christmas can be an especially emotive and conflicting time for persons with EDs, with the excesses of food and drink difficult to cope with.  See contact details for Bodywhys below. An estimated 188,895 Irish people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives and over 85% of those find it hard to access treatment. 

Last year, the HSE launched the first Self Care App which provides valuable information for those with or people caring for someone with an eating disorder. You can download the app https:// ncped.selfcareapp.mobi and note, there is further information on the app and services at https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/cspd/ncps/mental-health/eating-disorders/news/

For persons living with mental health issues or depression, Nurse Henchy concluded: “Don’t feel alone, make that call – talk to someone. There are several helplines such as the Samaritans, Pieta House, HSE helplines and Alone, and others. Please, don’t suffer in silence, reach out and make that call. A happy and safe Christmas to all.”

Dublin Helplines

  • The Samaritans Dublin
  • Volunteers can be contacted 24/7 either by phone on free to call 116 123, or by email to [email protected]
  • Pieta House
  • Pieta House offers support to persons experiencing self-harm inclinations or depression, and to families bereaved through suicide.
  • Freephone 1800 247 247 or Text HELP to 51444
  • Contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. See www.alone.ie

Bodywhys (01) 2107906

Evening times as usual: Monday, Wednesday and Sunday 7.30pm-9.30pm. Note Saturdays are now confined to 10.30am-12.30pm. Email [email protected] or see www.bodywhys.ie

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