Isolation triggers post-natal depression in young mums as lockdown continues
- Credit: Charlotte Boond
Social isolation has grown in recent years into an alarming problem, particularly in rural locations. Although the effects on the retired population are well understood, lockdown has highlighted that young parents are also suffering from its malignant effects
Social isolation has become one of the big problems of modern living – a problem that has grown year-on-year in the 21st century – and has become even more alarming since the Coronavirus lockdown in March.
The collapse of the charity Age UK Suffolk last week brought the spotlight sharply on the crisis facing Suffolk’s older residents, particularly those living in rural communities or in smaller villages.
But, social isolation is a problem that affects all ages, not just those in retirement. Young parents, particularly first-time mothers, can feel isolated, abandoned even, alone all day with no-one else in the neighbourhood.
These feelings were exacerbated during lockdown, but have increased still further now that lockdown has started to ease because husbands and partners have started returning to work but baby classes, soft-play and support groups have not been allowed to restart, leaving young parents feeling trapped at home.
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Tim Holder, from the Suffolk Community Foundation, said that helping to combat social isolation remains one of their top priorities and it is a problem that can cause misery to all age groups. He said that one of the key factors to loneliness and isolation was people not being given the opportunities to build support networks with people in their area.
He described the rural nature of the county as a challenge “with many people of all ages living in communities miles away from statuary services and support.”
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“Isolation was already one of the major challenges to overcome in Suffolk well before the virus struck. The serious impact it was having on people’s lives of all ages, was very much on the radar of everyone involved in trying to improve the lives of people in Suffolk. It had already been clearly identified by everyone as a key issue.”
Someone who knows the frustration experienced by young parents is Yazmin Mayer, owner of the play centre YaYa’s House, at Hintlesham. She admits she is struggling to understand the rationale behind the government’s insistence that reception and year one children return to school and yet their younger siblings are still unable to meet up at play centres or for events like baby massage or baby yoga.
She said: “I think a lot of us are struggling to get our heads around why the government are so reluctant to allow us to reopen when you can take children to the local pub garden. It’s very confusing and there’s no-one giving us any clear information.
“I know from the amount of messages I have received that parents are desperate to get out of the house. I have had people asking for private bookings which I have had to refuse because we are simply not allowed to open.
“A lot of support networks have moved online, so parents are getting the advice but what they aren’t getting is the social contact and neither are the children. The social side of it is very important for both the parents and the children.”
She said at YaYa’s House they have no soft-play equipment at all but instead have an entire play village with vets, school, theatre, building site, salon, café, shop and fire station set out in a former barn and farm buildings. There is also a café to allow people to chat while the children and are playing and making friends.
“I think the past three months have been hardest for those on maternity leave because they have been robbed of their time socialising with their baby. If you are a new mum and you had your baby in February, you have had no time at all to get to know other mums in your area, make friends and build up that all important support network. Also, it’s important for the baby to start developing its relationship with the world and with other children.”
She also emphasised that meeting up with people outside the family, making friends is important for people’s mental health – something echoed by Vicki Fletcher, from Manningtree-based Little City, the pre-school role-play/adventure company.
The company which sets up role-playing equipment in community centres and village halls across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex said that they are looking to speak with insurance companies to try and find a way back into operation.
“I think mentally we are all starting to struggle now. It’s the not knowing… if someone just said: ‘OK you can re-open on September 1, that would be fine. I could work towards that and we could plan but at the moment we are just in limbo.
“The announcement that indoor play, including soft-play, can’t open is madness. Apparently we are in the same bracket as nightclubs. Really? I don’t see it. I know that we are well prepared – everything is going to be regularly cleaned with anti-viral sprays, we are having reduced sessions, there will hand sanitiser everywhere, we know we can open up safely and securely.
“Parents are desperate to come back, to get out of the house, they need something to do with their small people. Now that the school holidays are here, having been at home for six months, parents need something to keep the under fives entertained. Also it’s important for the parents wellbeing to talk to someone who isn’t under four.
“It’s a great opportunity to talk, have a cup of tea and step back while their children play together in a safe environment. It provides some respite, a chance to have a breather, while still being there for your children. I think it’s important.
“It also helps to combat things like post-natal depression and conditions like that. I have a friend who is a health visitor and she tells me that incidents of post-natal depression have sky-rocketed since lockdown, simply because young mothers have been trapped at home and feel completely isolated.”
What can be done to help improve the situation for both young and old? For Tim Holder the answer lies in community co-operation.
“Suffolk will need to work even harder to create a more targeted, tightly and accurately woven collaboration between the public sector, charities, community groups, good neighbourhood schemes and the population of Suffolk as a whole. Bringing money and resources to a central plan is absolutely critical.
“The amazing work we have seen during the immediate crisis has been really humbling to witness and it has brought hope for a more caring society. We have to keep this up if we are to going to be able to do what needs to be done to support the vulnerable and isolated in our local communities in the even tougher weeks, months and years to come.”