Suffolk’s ‘Most Vulnerable’ now confused and fearful, as lockdown eases

Vulnerable Suffolk residents have found themselves thrown into a state of confusion and anxiety, as a result of sudden changes to ‘shielding’ rules.

That’s the verdict of Jayne Stevens, CEO of mental health charity Suffolk User Forum.

Following the government’s unexpected late night confirmation at the weekend that shielded individuals could now begin to leave their homes, Jayne and her team have been fielding calls from distressed individuals and families who want more clarity about what they should and should not do.

Some 20,000 people are shielding across the county of Suffolk, having been told in March that they should remain at home and not go out for work, shopping, exercise, or to see family or friends.

As of yesterday (31st May 2020) it became acceptable that those in the shielding category could now go outside of their home with a member of their household, or to meet one other – remaining at a safe distance.

Jayne believes that far from being met with delight at the thought of more freedom, most families are fearful – wondering what caused the swift announcement, and where the evidence is to suggest that they are now safe.

“This really has caused a huge amount of anxiety,” explained Jayne.

“among the 1,258 people we’ve supported during the crisis so far, many of those are in extremely clinically vulnerable situations – and yet all of a sudden they’re told ‘it’s ok to go out’.

“The initial guidance had been to stay shielded until the end of June, so to be told in a middle of a weekend that the goalposts have moved, at a time when the virus is still very much circulating, and when we’re seeing more return of social interaction in our communities, is naturally somewhat distressing.”

Suffolk User Forum helps over 100 people each week, ranging in age from 18 to 99.

The charity has been busy navigating the unique circumstances with every individual or household, and has been seeking to ensure the county’s residents are getting access to the right kind of care and medical provision where appropriate.

Jayne added: “While you could of course assume that many of the people who are shielding might be relieved to think they aren’t being ‘forgotten’ about by the government, and that there are moves to help them meet with others, we need to also remember how dreadfully worrying this time is for people who know they are mentally and physically vulnerable.

“Confusion helps no-one. From the moment the announcement was made we have been taking calls and emails questioning what the right and wrong thing to do is.

“Nobody wants to put themselves or another at risk, so many are reaching the conclusion that they will simply stay shielding until the initial ‘end of June’ timing is up, and then reassess.

“At the moment, there simply isn’t the confidence that there is enough science and analysis to say that vulnerable people are now fine to meet with others and be more interactive in their families or communities.”

If you or someone you know is shielding, Suffolk User Forum recommends:

  • Consider your unique situation
  • Talk to your family and friends and share your concerns or thoughts with them
  • Only change what you feel comfortable and confident in doing
  • Listen to any specific medical advice your GP or healthcare advisor is giving you
  • Ensure you are doing all you can to look after your physical and mental health, to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Remember there should be no ‘judgment’ about your decision to remain shielded for longer
  • Stay in contact – particularly if you decide to shield further – with the use of technology. Communication is good for your mental health.