By Justine Hodgkinson, CEO, Advocacy Focus.

I don’t know about you, but in the early days of COVID19, all I seemed to hear about was how people were stockpiling toilet roll. That and clearing shelves in local supermarkets, whilst abusing check out staff to the point of tears. Pictures flooded social media pages of empty shelves with older people stood in front of them looking dazed and confused. The term ‘Covidiot’ made it into the Urban Dictionary almost overnight, as people slated others for denying the more vulnerable members of society their essential items.

But here’s the thing. Fear makes people do the strangest of things. Panic even more so. I remember watching the Prime Minister’s first live brief in regards to the pandemic. It was calm, measured, based on science. I was reassured and said so to my team. Some five minutes later however, the tabloid press had taken the words of the Prime Minister and his team and had painted the worst case scenario. Headlines screamed out that thousands were going to die, the Army would be on our streets and life would never be the same again.

If you are functioning ok and a fairly resilient person, then these headlines can be filtered out and rationalised. If you are one of the 1 in 4 people that battles with their mental health on a daily basis, these headlines can and will prove too much. In fact one of the very tabloids that is guilty of churning out sensationalist news stories printed a story about a 19 year old young woman that many people will have missed. Emily Owen, who was described as ‘funny and charming’ by those who knew her, took her own life. It is claimed she did so when she was unable to cope with her world closing in, plans being cancelled and the thought of being stuck inside.

"In Emily’s case and for many other people in our communities, the fear of being alone is scarier than COVID19 itself."

Who’s to blame for this? Will anybody consider how their actions may have contributed towards her death? And more importantly, how do we stop this from happening again? In Emily’s case and for many other people in our communities, the fear of being alone is scarier than COVID19 itself. Connections matter. It’s a basic human need. So why don’t we put our energies into that rather than slating people for buying toilet roll, paracetamol and hogging all the online delivery slots? Why don’t we recognise that people are scared, anxious and downright panicked about how this pandemic will unfold? Why don’t we drop the Covidiot and instead talk about Covid-Connections?

Loneliness is already a global epidemic. A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross revealed that over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages are either always, or often lonely. A survey by Action for Children also found that 43% of 17 – 25 year olds had experienced problems with loneliness, and that of this same group less than half said they felt loved. For many people, COVID19 is the least of their worries as their world shrinks ever further during this necessary period of social distancing and lockdown.

But there is good news, much of which you won’t read about in the tabloids, when you grow tired of sifting through the negativity. Over 750,000 people have signed up and volunteered to help the NHS and their coronavirus efforts. Children are painting rainbows to hang in their windows to raise the spirits of passers-by since the nation’s schools closed. There has been an astonishing decline in air pollution, which incidentally kills around 400,000 globally per year. Let’s turn our attention to these stories, look for the rainbows the children are drawing and reach out, albeit in a different way to how we are used to. Our lives and our world may never be the same again, but hopefully we will adapt, learn, grow – be less judgmental and more understanding. And I don’t know about you, but I care about that more than having toilet roll in my cupboard….

  • Now read about the new community service we have launched to spread positivity during COVID19 - our Pen-demic Pals project.