I’m 16 but my mum has to sleep in my bed as lockdown loneliness has driven me to the brink of suicide

EVERY night, when 16-year-old Sam climbs into bed, her mum Louise slips in beside her, afraid what her daughter will do if she’s left alone.

The teenager, who suffers from anxiety and depression, has been driven to the brink of suicide since the pandemic began as loneliness overwhelmed her.

Sam, from Midlothian, Scotland, is visually impaired and a talented athlete, but Covid restrictions have seen her sports clubs close and have left her feeling alone, to the point where she has tried to take her own life.

“I feel isolated and cut off from the outside world,” says Sam.

“Even though my family are here, I feel very lonely. I’m sleepy all time and have lost interest in most daily activities and routines.”

Sam is one of thousands of teenagers whose mental health has suffered during lockdown. An NHS study found one in six children from 5 to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in July this year, compared to one in nine children in 2017.

Childline, run by the NSPCC, delivered 3,262 counselling sessions about loneliness between April and October 2020 – an average of around 15 a day – and 2,488 of those were children aged 12 to 18.

Wendy Robinson, Childline Service Head, said: “It’s been a hugely turbulent year for young people as they have faced massive disruption to their lives at the same time as being cut off for long periods of time from friends and family.

“We have heard from lonely teenagers didn’t feel as though they had anyone else to talk to and some struggled with their mental health as a result. Sadly, some told us they felt ‘lost in their own thoughts’ while others said they felt ‘numb’."

Sam is speaking as part of our Christmas Together campaign which shines a light on loneliness.

‘Pandemic feels like a zombie apocalypse’

Having struggled with depression and anxiety for the last few years, Sam has found huge solace in sport and dreams of becoming a paralympian.

Before the pandemic, she swam three times a week and was coached for the paralympic sport Goalball weekly, as well as travelling to York, Leeds and Sheffield three times a month to compete. She also attended a weekly art class.

But the Covid restrictions meant the closure of all her clubs and she has been left feeling isolated and, at times, suicidal.

“Loneliness is something I have had to adjust to, being a young person with disabilities,” she says.

“Isolation and not having a peer group has impacted on my mental health, so becoming involved in Goalball opened new opportunities to connect with peers.

“Keeping very busy and having limited time to myself kept me safe before going into lockdown, but I now feel isolated and cut off from the outside world.

“Even though my family are here, I feel very lonely. I’m sleepy all time and have lost interest in most daily activities and routines.”

News of the spreading pandemic has also increased Sam’s anxiety levels.

“I’m fearful and cry a lot," she says.

"I’m worried family members will die and I’m scared because it feels like a zombie apocalypse.”

Sam says that at her lowest ebb during the pandemic she “wanted to join my Nana, who died in 2016, and made serious attempts to end my life.”

Worried for her safety, her family have rallied round and tried to keep her active, with daily walks and various activities to keep her stimulated.

“My dad and brother organised daily cycling around our local area. I have a tandem bike so I was able to enjoy getting out and feeling a sense of freedom with the wind in my hair and sweating from the exercise,” she says.

“We like having a cinema experience at home, so we’ll buy a film on Sky Box Office and have a big box of popcorn.

“My mum has arranged with my art tutor to continue sessions via FaceTime. I’m doing baking, drawing, puzzles and playing with my cats.”

The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign

THIS Christmas we are teaming up with the Together Campaign, a coalition of community groups and organisations, and Royal Voluntary Service to combat loneliness.

And we want to recruit an army of volunteers to support those feeling cut off, anxious and isolated, this Christmas.

Could YOU reach out to someone who might be struggling and alone?    

It might be someone you know in your own life or community who needs support.

Or we can connect you with someone in need through the NHS Volunteer responder programme run by the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app. 

Could you give up half an hour to make a call and chat with someone feeling  isolated? Or could you volunteer to deliver essential shopping or festive treats?

Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether to sign up as a volunteer. 

You will then receive an email taking you through the sign up process and be asked to download the responder app which will match you to those in need in your area.

Don’t worry if you don’t get a job straight away, because jobs are matched according to the need local to you.  Being ready to help is what really matters.

Home schooling added to isolation

As well as the support of a loving family, Sam has been helped by CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and her school.

“I was really lucky to have ongoing support, with weekly phone calls and Zoom meetings with CAMHS, and mum knows they are always there if she needs them,” says Sam.

“Home schooling was hard. I’ve got all my coursework done, but it’s the isolation I’ve found difficult.

“I really miss the routine of a school timetable and my visual impairment means I’ve struggled accessing materials at home. This all has a knock-on effect on my mental health.

"But my school has been brilliant, keeping in touch with me and my mum and one teacher even came around to see me when I was having a particularly difficult time. We sat in the garden and socially distanced and talked things through.

“They also sorted out access to the gym hall for me, which means I can still practice Goalball which is really important to me.”

Sam’s mental health decline has had a knock on effect, with mum Louise becoming so concerned she insists on sleeping in the same bed every night.

“I can’t explain the fear and helplessness you feel as a parent living with the uncertainty of a child who at times didn’t want to continue living,” she says.

“There are no second chances with suicide. We are now on 24-hour watch and alert. Night times are when she is most vulnerable and I have been sharing her bed since the beginning of the year.

“The heightened unknown scares me. What will happen to her if we become unwell? Who will look after her when I feel like I can’t take my eyes off her for a second?

I can’t explain the fear and helplessness you feel as a parent living with the uncertainty of a child who at times didn’t want to continue living.

“As parents, we feel isolated too because others see a very happy, active, talented young woman – not the scared girl who can’t control the thoughts within her head and who sometimes doesn’t want to live. Mental health is still a hidden, embarrassing subject for some people.

“It is Samantha’s dream to be a Paralympian and represent her country. While taking part in her sports, the voices within her head quieten briefly which is why these circumstances are so hard for her to cope with.

"We will do everything we can to give her the opportunity to feel at peace within her skin.”

Loneliness by numbers

1 in 5 people who live alone will spend Christmas on their own

60% said they had felt more lonely during the pandemic

37% people know someone who will be spending Christmas alone

16% Brits said they were ‘dreading’ Christmas 

52% said they have helped a vulnerable person during the pandemic 

4.2 million adults always or often felt lonely during the second national lockdown

16 to 29-year-olds are twice as likely as the over-70s to be experiencing loneliness in the pandemic

£5.9m marked by Government pilot to tackle loneliness

Despite her struggles, Sam considers herself lucky to have the support of her family, the school and social services during this dark time.

“My advice for other people in similar situations is to listen to your family, they are on your side.

“When it’s hard to lift your head from the pillow or even open your eyes, just try and set yourself achievable small daily goals."

Wendy, from the NSPCC urged those who need to talk to contact Childline.

“Childline is a safe and confidential space for children and young people," she says. "We urge anyone who wants someone to talk to to get in touch day or night on 0800 1111 or by visiting childline.org.uk.”

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