Opinion

Planet Rachael: all at sea during COVID-19 – anyone got a bilge pump?

Rachael’s isolation at the beginning of the pandemic didn’t seem anything new but, several months in, things have changed

At the beginning of COVID-19, Rachaels isolation didnt seem anything new but, several months in, things have changed

Earlier this year I smugly painted a picture of Rachael riding the waves of the COVID-19 sea with the surface reflecting her sparkling mood and chaos-riding machismo.

I argued then that she has spent a lifetime in a form of isolation anyway so lockdown made little difference.

I take this all back.

Now Rachael has the appearance of someone who has spent her life sailing around the Drake Passage, off Cape Horn, in a coracle.

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At the beginning of COVID-19, Rachael’s isolation didn’t seem anything new but, several months in, things have changed

Woman in a coracle with paddle. Many people, particularly those with learning disabilities and/or autism, have been left all at sea by the COVID-19 pandemic
Picture: Alamy

Earlier this year I smugly painted a picture of Rachael riding the waves of the COVID-19 sea with the surface reflecting her sparkling mood and chaos-riding machismo.

I argued then that she has spent a lifetime in a form of isolation anyway so lockdown made little difference.

I take this all back.

Now Rachael has the appearance of someone who has spent her life sailing around the Drake Passage, off Cape Horn, in a coracle.

Even in the heady pre-pandemic days, the nation was experiencing a different type of ‘emic’ which came in the form of mental ill health, already seen by some as a 21st century plague.

COVID has widened mental health inequalities

In May, the Mental Health Foundation published some worrying data suggesting that the pandemic has widened mental health inequalities in certain demographic groups, the most at risk being: the very young; the very old; people with pre-existing mental health issues; and those with long-term disabilities.

‘Rachael and others with a disability make up one in five of us in the UK, but neither them nor their COVID-19 experiences are trending on social media’

This latter group were more likely to have the most limited coping mechanisms and be prone to panic and loneliness.

The report uses the analogy that we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

I would suggest people with learning disabilities – regardless of the weather forecast – are in a boat holed below the waterline and sinking fast – if they were ever gifted a boat at all.

Rachael and others with a disability make up one in five of us in the UK, but neither them nor their COVID-19 experiences are trending on social media – that’s covering more pressing matters, such as how to heat the garden for #autumnalfrescodining and the ironic #workingfromhome when both require a job that pays to meaningfully apply.

Rachael is one of the lucky ones. She still has her carers to support her independent living in circumstances where so many have lost theirs.

Spend money on preventive measures rather than crisis support

She can afford, thanks to the bank of mum and dad, psychology sessions that are denied to so many without means, and she has a family bubble she can visit – although Rachael has lovingly said she would rather be ‘bubbled’ with her art teacher.

Despite this she is still struggling.

The cost of mental health in England alone hit £119 billion in 2019-20, but like for like spending on public health fell 8%. I can’t help but think that money spent on preventive measures rather than crisis support would have the greater benefit.

Anyone got a bilge pump?

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