‘Some days I get very depressed:’ seniors discuss isolation during the pandemic

‘Some days I get very depressed:’ seniors discuss isolation during the pandemic

Jackie Potter cannot stop thinking about her five dead children.

The 60-year-old lives alone in Hamilton with nothing to do during the pandemic. So she thinks.

St. Matthew’s House, the seniors centre where she’d normally spend her days with her friends playing games, socializing and eating, is closed due to COVID-19.

That gives her brain more time to wander.

She sits in her small house and remembers the twins, a boy and girl who were stillborn. She remembers her son who was killed by a drunk driver. She remembers the massive heart attacks that claimed the life of her daughter and another son.

“Some days I get very depressed,” Potter says. “Other days I try to be OK, but it doesn’t always work. I’ll eventually get to see them in heaven.”

Her two dogs, Baby Bullet and Princess Anne, help.

“If it wasn’t for them, I would have gone nuts by now,” she says.

St. Matthew’s House acted as an anchor for dozens of seniors in the area. Without that anchor, Potter says she and her friends feel adrift and forgotten.

Similar centres across the country have been shut down due to limits on gatherings during the pandemic.

Psychologists worry about the “echo pandemic” — the mental health crisis that will remain in the wake of COVID-19. Isolation is a major contributing factor to that looming crisis, experts say.

While isolation protects vulnerable seniors from contracting the coronavirus, it’s also having a debilitating effect on their mental wellbeing.

Anxiety and depression are up since lockdown measures came into effect across the country in March, according to a survey of 1,803 Canadians by the national charity the Mental Health Research Council.

“What’s clear are levels of anxiety and depression have really taken an unprecedented toll on people psychologically,” said Dr. David Dozois, a psychologist on the board of the research council and a professor at Western University.

“Social isolation and loneliness are huge public health issues not only for the general public, but particularly for seniors who experience greater risk for isolation.”

People who feel lonely or isolated have a significantly greater risk of mortality, an increase of 26 to 32 per cent, Dozois said.

Potter says getting out and being social helps her tremendously.

“I have schizophrenia and bipolar, so this is really hard getting stuck in the house like this,” she says.

She fills her days watching her DVDs, “over and over and over.” She hates to admit it, but she’s even sick of her favourite movie — ”To Sir With Love,” starring Sidney Poitier.

Potter’s friend from the seniors centre, Debbie Brown, also struggles.

“I have anxiety problems and my anxiety right now is really up,” she says. “I’m afraid to go out, even to a store. I feel taped in, it’s terrible.”

Brown, 60, lives on her own in an apartment building and has not seen her children or grandchildren, including a new baby, in months.

She’s scared of getting COVID-19, but forces herself to the store about once a week, just to get outside for some exercise.

Brown used to go to the seniors centre five times a week, doing crafts like rug-hooking.

She says it helped her return to a sense of normalcy after being sexually assaulted.

“It was really good to get out of my home to be with other people,” Brown says.

“Now I’m home all the time. I’m not going to be ashamed — I do get a bit depressed.”

Her panic attacks are “way up,” she says, and she spends a lot of time sleeping or watching television.

“It’s gotten down to watching a lot of paranormal stuff right now,” she says with a laugh. “It’s sad.”

Meanwhile, Bonnie Dufour is trying to keep her friends’ sanity in check.

The 69-year-old also lives alone in an apartment, but says she’s better prepared for the isolation after a five-year-ordeal with flesh-eating disease. The illness left her housebound the entire time and took part of her leg and buttocks.

She remembers finally going to the seniors centre afterward, and it was the springboard she needed to feel better mentally and physically. She started exercising, changed her diet and eventually lost 140 pounds and got out of her wheelchair.

Now, Dufour says, she’s sitting around a lot and eating too much, mostly out of boredom.

She lost both of her daughters — one to cancer and one to spina bifida — but her son helps out, and she was able to leave the house for the first time since mid-March on Friday to give her granddaughter a birthday gift.

The virus is often on her mind. Her estranged husband, who is in a nursing home, is on death’s door from COVID-19, she says.

She still has work to do, though. She checks in with Potter and Brown and has both over periodically, though not at the same time.

“I try to keep others laughing so that we’re all going to stay healthy,” Dufour says.

“We’re helping each other.”

Andrew Matthews, a crisis intervention worker with St. Matthew’s House, spends most of his time organizing and delivering food to his clients, including the three friends.

“We can meet their physical health needs, I’m not worried about that,” he says.

“I’m very concerned for their mental health. The loss of social activities is huge and that will affect their overall health.”

The three friends just want some hope — hope that the seniors centre, in some form, can open.

“We’ll respect distancing. We don’t hug or kiss, just enjoy each other’s company,” Brown says.

“Everyone is missing our happy place.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin reporting active cases

Both the City of Wetaskiwin and County of Wetaskiwin have active cases.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owners found

Father and son found him while out for a walk at JJ Collett

Most Read