Disabled people are a diverse group: but loneliness is a common experience
Living with a disability can create barriers to building social connections. Matt and Graham tell us their stories, and how the British Red Cross helped them turn things around.
This has been such a challenging time - periods of lockdown, personal sacrifices and living with uncertainty has made the last 18 months hard for us all.
But the pandemic has hit some social groups particularly hard. Disabled people already faced barriers in daily life which made them more chronically lonely than non-disabled people. Even as the Disability Discrimination Act turns 25-years-old.
And a new report from the British Red Cross: Lonely and left behind shows that 35% of UK adults are concerned their loneliness will get worse – with communities, such as disabled people, feeling particularly worried.
While each disabled person is unique in terms of the personal circumstances they face, loneliness is a common and destructive factor. Getting the right support is so important.
“It was a hideous time. Loneliness is very destructive,” said Matt Delaney.
The ex-serviceman spent years dealing with the effects of loneliness and social isolation after a severe injury left him immobile and housebound.
“The injury happened when I was 19 years old and serving with the Grenadier Guards,” Matt said.
“We were on an operation and I was carrying a very heavy load. I jumped over a wall and completely shattered my left leg. It was broken in about 20 places.
“I was in and out of hospital for about 18 months undergoing numerous operations and rehabilitation.”
Matt left the army a few years later and took a job working with people with learning difficulties, which he thoroughly enjoyed. But his ankle continued to cause him extreme discomfort.
“Eventually in 2012 I retired on ill health and I was told I’d need a below-the-knee amputation,” he said.
Matt spent four years out of work with limited mobility. He was unable to do the things he had always enjoyed, such as walking and DIY. Both his mental and physical health began to suffer.
“It affected my relationship with my wife, Michaela, and I didn’t see my friends. It changed how I felt about myself. I felt like my life was eroding away.”
“I was desperate for help. I’d just had surgery and was pretty disorientated. I was at a low ebb.”
Graham was left feeling vulnerable, and very alone after kidney surgery last year. He was discharged at the worst possible time: on the eve of the first nationwide lockdown in March 2020.
Partially disabled after a stroke, the former solo yachtsman was struggling to cope. His son had needed to go away. There was no food in the house, and there was no way he could get to the shops.
Fortunately, someone had suggested to Graham that he try calling the British Red Cross. He soon had a visit from Debbie and Donna from the charity’s independent living service.
“They answered my call for help, like avenging angels!” Graham says. “They went food shopping for me and helped me get everything sorted out at home. I can’t sing their praises enough.”
The loneliest voyage yet
Graham arranged for a carer to help with his practical needs. But as the lockdown stretched out, he began to feel extremely lonely.
“My life was already a bit limited,” he says, “but in lockdown it got even worse. It’s hard work and pretty boring."
Before his health problems had ended his career, Graham had worked for the Tall Ships Youth Trust. He had captained a 70-foot ocean-going yacht, which he used to take young people out sailing.
He had taken many voyages alone, but lockdown was a new and difficult situation.
Luckily, the Red Cross team had made it clear they would keep in touch, and Graham was always welcome to ring for a chat.
“I’ve phoned a few times,” he says. “It’s really nice to have a chat to someone
while you’re stuck at home.
"Knowing someone is there at the end of the phone makes me feel less isolated. It’s really helped me cope with the lockdown.”