Fear of mental health crisis as loneliness rises dramatically amongst disabled people

  • Almost two thirds (61%) of disabled people are now chronically lonely, rising to 7 in 10 (70%) of young disabled people, 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 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 prioritise once 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.

25 February 2021 – New research has sparked fears of a mental health crisis facing disabled people, as almost two thirds (61%) of disabled people say they are experiencing ‘chronic loneliness’*, feeling lonely ‘always’ or ‘often’, rising to 7 in 10 (70%) of young disabled people, aged 16 to 24. Sense, the disability charity that carried out the research, has called for urgent government action.

There are 14.1 million disabled people living in the UK, and while loneliness has risen across the whole population in the last year, today’s announcement reveals that 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 research is further evidence of the disproportionate impact the virus has had on the lives of disabled people. According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)**, disabled people 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 have said that they have felt forgotten during the pandemic, with social care 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 disabled people***, 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.

Lucy Dawson (31) is also deafblind and lives with her guide dog in supported living accommodation in Norwich. As a disabled person, she says she has experienced social isolation and loneliness throughout her life, but prior to the pandemic managed to keep active, meeting with friends and family once a week, and taking part in her hobbies, photography, and poetry.  But Lucy says that events of the last year have taken a tremendous toll on her mental health and wellbeing.

Lucy Dawson, a white woman with short, multi-coloured hair, who is wearing sunglasses.

Lucy Dawson, said:

“Since the pandemic, I’ve become totally isolated and am struggling with depression. I’m not as active as I was and have stopped doing the things I enjoy. My sleep is all over the place and my relationships have been affected.”

“The pandemic has made life really difficult for disabled people, and it feels like we’ve been cast aside and forgotten.”

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.

Read more about our Left Out of Life campaign.

Contact Sense’s media team

Email: [email protected]
Phone number: 0203 833 0611