ACADEMICS are launching a new scheme to tackle a potential "explosion" in loneliness and depression as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

University of York researchers are to trial the intervention aimed at preventing and mitigating the onset of depression among the most vulnerable in society.

The university team is working in partnership with the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and York Medical School to conduct its research.

A spokesperson said enforced isolation, whether due to shielding or self-isolation, causes disruption to daily routines, loss of social contact and loneliness, which can lead to mental ill-health.

They said many more people will now be isolated as the lockdown continues for particular sections of society.

Older people, and those with long-term conditions, are believed to represent a high-risk group for developing mental health problems.

The researchers say they have developed an intervention, delivered by trained support workers, over the telephone, and over up to eight sessions.

Its impact will be evaluated to see if depression symptoms can be prevented or improved during the time of lockdown, and whether the intervention is acceptable to older adults and to support workers.

Researchers will also evaluate whether this reduces levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

The trial is being led in York by Professor Simon Gilbody, director of the Mental Health and Addictions Research Group at the University of York.

He said: “Older people and those with long term conditions have now entered enforced isolation, and this risks an explosion of loneliness and depression for this vulnerable population.

“We know that social isolation does not inevitably lead to depression and loneliness, but having physical health problems is a risk factor for depression, and the additional stress of social isolation or shielding may well cause people to suffer from low mood and anxiety."

The professor added: “In this study, we will test how we can maintain older people’s mental health during this difficult time.”