Fear of Mental Health Crisis Amongst Disabled People


New research has sparked fears of a mental health crisis facing disabled people, with almost two thirds (61%) now experiencing ‘chronic loneliness’*, feeling lonely ‘always’ or ‘often’, rising to 7 in 10 (70%) among young disabled people, aged 16 to 24. 

Sense, the disability charity that carried out the research, has called for urgent government action.

  • Almost two thirds (61%) of disabled people are now chronically lonely, rising to 7 in 10 young disabled people (70%), according to new research conducted by the national disability charity, Sense.
  • Over two thirds (70%) of disabled people say their mental health is affected by the social isolation, raising concerns of a significant increase in mental health conditions.
  • Tackling mental health issues and addressing chronic loneliness caused by the pandemic is what the majority (35%) of disabled people believe the government should prioritiseonce the vaccination rollout is complete, topping the NHS (32%), economy (22%), and education (8%).
  • Figures show that disabled people were disproportionately affected by social isolation and loneliness before the pandemic, but the dramatic increase has led Sense to call for urgent action from the government.
  • Sense is also inviting the public to sign its pledge to tackle social isolation and receive a free guide on the role they can play in making life more accessible for disabled people.

There are 14.1 million disabled people living in the UK, and while loneliness has risen across the whole population in the last year, it has jumped by a quarter for those with a disability, who prior to the outbreak, were already disproportionately affected by the issue.

More than a third (37%) of disabled people said they were chronically lonely before the pandemic, rising to one in two (54%) for 16- to 24-year-olds. A third (33%) of disabled people would be limited to having under an hour interaction with someone else, each day.

Over two thirds (70%) of disabled people now say that social isolation is affecting their mental health and wellbeing, with 2 in 5 (40%) reporting an impact on their physical health. This has led to the majority of disabled people (35%) believing that the government should prioritise tackling mental health issues caused by the pandemic, over the NHS (32%), economy (22%), and education (8%), once the vaccination rollout is complete.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the lives of disabled people. They account for almost six in 10 (59 per cent) of all deaths involving coronavirus**, while making up 22 per cent of the population. Many disabled people who receive social care have had support reduced, which has meant they have been unable to do basic chores such as leave the house, eat, wash themselves, socialise or attend essential medical appointments.

The new study by Sense, which surveyed 1,011 people across the UK, reveals that 2 in 5 (40%) disabled people believe that disabled people and their needs have not been prioritised by the Government during the pandemic.

Sense, the disability charityNatalie Williams (38) from Ebbw Vale in Wales was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome in 2012. By 2016, she had to stop working as a result of her disabilities. Before the pandemic she had support from a Communicator Guide which helped her access her community and grow in confidence. However, as the pandemic took hold, this service stopped, and Natalie found herself homebound.

‘I can’t go out by myself. I can’t hear well enough to use the phone or see well enough for video calls, so it is hard to keep in touch with people. Since the first lockdown in March, I have lost all my independence that I have worked so hard for.’

Sense is calling for urgent action from the government, which includes scaling up mental health support for disabled people, and greater investment on preventative measures, such as dedicated services that tackle loneliness.

 Richard Kramer, Sense Chief Executive, said: 

“Many disabled people were already experiencing high levels of social isolation and loneliness before the pandemic, and the last year has made the situation much worse, raising fears of a mental health crisis.”

“Throughout the pandemic the needs of disabled people have been overlooked, and they have often felt forgotten.”

“The government must recognise the severe impact the pandemic is having on disabled people and improve the support available, so they are not left isolated and cut off from society.”

Sense is also aiming to raise disability awareness and understanding amongst the general public. 2 in 5 disabled people (44%) said it would be the most helpful measure in tackling social isolation, second only to introducing more community activities where people can meet (51%).

Richard Kramer, Sense Chief Executive, continued:

“We have all felt disconnected from others at some point during this pandemic, but loneliness has disproportionally affected disabled people. Many disabled people told us how they don’t have support networks around them and feel cut off from their local community. Others have struggled to leave their homes at all or to access and use digital technology to connect with people.”

“More widely, disabled people face practical challenges such as the need for accessible transport and buildings, financial support and appropriate social care. However, a lack of understanding and awareness of disability is also a significant obstacle.”

“We have all now experienced how it feels to have barriers preventing us from participating in everyday life. Our hope is that as we plan our way out of lockdown and begin to imagine what our lives will look like post-COVID, we can all commit to making society more accessible for everyone.”

“We can’t change what disabled people have experienced during the pandemic, but a more accessible society and a commitment to address loneliness can be its positive legacy.”

Sense is calling on the public to sign its pledge, committing to help create a more accessible society.  Upon signing the pledge, supporters will receive a free guide on how to make life more inclusive for everyone.

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