Peak paranoia: living through a pandemic with schizophrenia

Irish Daily Mirror|June 9, 2020

Peak paranoia: living through a pandemic with schizophrenia
Keeping people with complex mental health needs safe during the pandemic poses real problems, as one writer has discovered while caring for her over-70s mother.

For people with mental health problems, a global pandemic is all their worst nightmares come true. So it was no surprise when my mum, who has paranoid schizophrenia, had a huge relapse.

She seemed to be coping well in the early weeks of coronavirus. She understood we need to be careful. She followed the advice for over-70s and stopped going out. She tried to keep busy. And then, bang! She became extremely unwell, almost overnight.

One of the first indications I get that mum is ill again is when the police ring. They call me because there is a mental health “marker” against her address. They tell me she has reported break-ins, stalkers, menacing gangs, threats to kill.

I often wake up to a string of voice messages on my mobile because mum rings the police through the night. They become her number one care provider.

And the call handlers are excellent at managing her distress. Only now in this crisis they are managing a surge in calls from people, particularly older people, with mental health problems.

One operator told me: “The nature of our calls has changed. We’re getting far fewer reports of actual break-ins, and far more from people like your mum.”

DANGER

I felt sad when I heard that. Sad for the thousands of people across the country unable to sleep, terrified, struggling to cope with an omnipresent threat and the sudden withdrawal of their regular face-to-face support workers.

Because it is older people who have borne the brunt of some of the most severe government instructions to self-isolate, cut themselves off from family.

If you have a mental health diagnosis on top of being in the highest-risk group, the coronavirus danger is especially hard to deal with.

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June 9, 2020