Jean Howe is not your average 74-year-old (if there is such a thing). She sounds 20 years younger, has a husband who is 12 years younger, and only stopped working aged 73.
However, one thing Jean has in common with many people in their 70s is loneliness. And for her, long lonely hours stuck inside are when depression rooted in her childhood comes close.
“I have never actually got a packet of tablets and a bottle of vodka but I have gone through phases of not wanting to wake up in the morning and it was horrible,” she says.
A very sociable person, Jean, a mother of two and grandmother of four who lives on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets, revelled in her job as a university receptionist and student coordinator until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But by late 2021, she was at breaking point. It was a mix of isolation, a serious illness affecting her husband that has changed him for ever, money troubles, and being unable to find a long-term job for the first time since she started work aged 14.
Already on antidepressants, she spoke to her GP who referred her to Tracey Adebowale-Jones, an NHS health and wellbeing coach.
Tracey helps people with deep-rooted problems that are affecting their health to identify and follow through with changes that improve their lives.
“Tracey has been amazing,” says Jean. “She puts things in perspective for me and helps me deal with them differently. I am a different person in a way.”
To replace the companionship she no longer has at home or work, Jean has joined lots of local groups – keep fit, chair yoga, a friendship group – runs her own coffee mornings, volunteers at a homeless shelter and the Royal London Hospital and has started singing in the Canary Wharf Choir with a friend.
“I still have my times when I’m not good but I cope with my depression an awful lot better now,” she says. “To anyone feeling the way I was, I would say ‘ask for help. There is light at the end of the tunnel.’”