By Meg Montague
Mainland Scotland was placed into lockdown on Jan 4 to combat the surge in new coronavirus cases, and those who qualify as clinically vulnerable were advised to shield again. However, contrary to the guidance given back in March, individuals who are shielding are currently allowed to leave their home to go for a walk or pick up their medication.
“The advice was don’t go [out with] your walls,” said Jen Winch, a 32-year old with severe asthma. “Don’t do anything, don’t touch anyone, don’t see anyone, just stay in your house.”
Jen believes that the change in guidance for those who qualify for the shielding list is due to the effect the first lockdown had on mental health. According to the Office of National Statistics, 35 per cent of those shielding said their mental health had got worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was really lonely in the initial lockdown,” added Jen. “I know the feeling of having no one to talk to.”
Jen lives with her teenage son but he has Asperger’s syndrome and struggles to “converse”. However, Jen helps run Shielding Peer Support Group Scotland, an online support group for people of all ages who are shielding, where she found a community with people who understood what she was going through.
She explains that while social media has brought “shielders together”, it has also had a very negative impact on them amidst rising anti-lockdown sentiment on sites such as Twitter.
“It’s really disheartening. Social media is a horrible thing right now, because everyone is using it to try and connect with the world, but that means you’ve got a bunch of people reading comments over and over,” said Jen. “You know: ‘Why don’t we just lock all the over 70s up, and the clinically vulnerable, don’t let them come out until Covid goes away.’ But there’s no guarantees that Covid is actually going to leave our lives.”
“It’s not right to ask such a huge part of the population, especially the younger generations of shielders, to put their lives on hold,” added Jen.
Julie Falconer, 24, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in March last year, around the time the first national lockdown was imposed. She was placed on immunosuppressant medication, meaning she went straight onto the shielding list. She spent the first lockdown shut in her room, isolating from the rest of her household.
“I’ve been really not well lately in general, to possibly stay away from everyone again, stuck in one room myself for the duration of the time…I think [my mental health] would take a really big dip, to the point where I probably would need to seek help from someone,” said Julie. “I feel like if we went into the strictest of the strict lockdown, my mental health would really deteriorate.”
The Scottish government have confirmed that the national lockdown will be extended until at least mid-February, and there has not yet been any change to the advice given to those shielding.