A fifth of people in the UK say they are lonely. That’s more than 10 million of us at any one time.
Loneliness is high and sadly growing among the more elderly population, a situation that has been made worse throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the UK faces further restrictions amid rising coronavirus cases, and as we now enter the colder months, thousands of older people are facing one of the loneliest winters ever. Age UK, the leading charity for older people, has estimated that more than 850,000 older people could be spending this Christmas alone. Ensuring you or someone you know who may be experiencing loneliness are able to talk to someone and receive support has never been more important.
At Scalesceugh Hall, we are very aware of the potential harm loneliness can cause, especially with co-founder Dr Anita Herdeiro being an experienced GP.
The condition was at the very heart of the decision to create a vibrant community, which would encourage social interaction and the forging of new friendships.
The previous and current lockdown reaffirmed the commitment to community lifestyle living, as homeowners have been fortunate enough to be able to take walks in the vast grounds, and thus keep in touch with their neighbours. But not everyone is so lucky.
What is loneliness?
We all feel lonely at times – and you don’t have to be on your own to feel this way. Plenty of people feel lonely in a relationship, or even with family or friends.
There are also different types of loneliness, such as:
Social loneliness – You feel like you lack a wide network of friends, neighbours or colleagues.
Emotional loneliness – When someone you were very close to, such as a partner, is no longer there.
Situational loneliness – Something you only feel at certain times - it could be a notable birthday anniversary, or Christmas, or a Sunday, perhaps.
Chronic loneliness – This is when you feel lonely all or most of the time.
Can loneliness harm my health?
All age groups, of course, experience loneliness - we all probably will at some stage of our lives. Especially when we lose loved ones.
Worryingly, loneliness is considered to be one of the biggest mental and physical health concerns we face.
It is far more than a natural emotion. Loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and poor sleep.
In fact, it is believed that loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Furthermore, people who feel lonely are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia.
This is why it’s important to phone your GP if you’ve been feeling lonely for a long time. You need to get the right support.
Dr Anita Herdeiro says: "For an ageing population who have been isolated in lockdown, this time has been challenging for many. Not being able to see anyone - not even your GP - having to sort out more things on the phone, living with a fear of the virus... it all takes its toll.
"Loneliness is normal in our society and it is about finding ways, in the new world that we are currently living in, to tackle the feelings we get from it, and how we act in reaction to them."
How can you beat loneliness?
Telling someone that you’re lonely is an important first step to overcoming it, and you have to remember that there is no shame at all in feeling lonely.
So how can you help yourself and other people to stay connected and beat loneliness?
The Marmalade Trust, a charity dedicated to raising awareness of loneliness and helping people make new friendships, has devised these tips with social distancing measures in mind:
Send a letter or postcard to someone isolating by themselves
Organise a weekly video call with friends or family
Reach out to a friend to remind them you’re always there to talk
Arrange to watch a film at the same time as a friend and video call
Share your experiences of loneliness on social media
Arrange a video call with someone you haven’t seen in a while
Talk with friends or family about their experiences of loneliness during lockdown
Start or join a virtual book or film club
Join a virtual pub quiz
Spend some time in nature or tend to some indoor plants
Have meaningful conversations while walking rather than sitting face-to-face
Prioritise looking after yourself, making sure you are eating healthily, being as active as you can and sleeping well.
Start (or join) a WhatsApp or email group for your street. It’s a great way to connect with your neighbours
If you know a neighbour who is self-isolating, post a letter under their door to ask if they need help with groceries or errands
Have a cup of tea with your neighbour (while maintaining appropriate distance)
Reach out to a local charity and volunteer your support - helping others is the quickest way to help yourself
Reach out to a friend, family member or neighbour who is experiencing loneliness or isolation
If you’re able to get out, smile and say hello to passers-by. Even from two-metres, this can make a big difference
Make use of your community – many small local food suppliers will still be open, and can be a friendly place to say hello and chat.
There are many organisations that offer a telephone service so you or a loved one seek help and advice or simply enjoy a regular chat with someone. Below are the details for some of them:
Age UK's advice line is a free, confidential national phone service for older people, their families, friends, carers and professionals. Their team will give you information that is reliable and up to date and help you to access the advice you need.
Delivered in partnership with charity The Silver Line, they also offer a telephone friendship service so you can enjoy chatting with someone over the phone all from the comfort of your own home, whether it be every week, or just when the need strikes.
Helpline: 0800 678 1602
The Silver Line
The Silver Line is the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Helpline: 0800 470 80 90
Re-engage (Formerly Contact the Elderly)
Re-engage support older people who live alone and find it hard to get out in normal times. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, they've set up a UK-wide call companions service where those feeling alone can receive a regular friendly phone call throughout the crisis and beyond.
To get a call companion you can visit their website or contact: 0800 716543
You can find a more comprehensive list of supportive organisations and various online groups here.
Start a hobby for better mental health
Starting a new hobby or reviving an old one can also help tackle feelings of loneliness and improve your mental health. Getting enjoyment from gardening, for example, or unleashing your creative juices are proven ways to lift the spirit and give you a sense of purpose.
There are also various charities and organisations who are offering the opportunity for you to learn new skills and interact with others online, such as The Royal Voluntary Service. They have set up The Virtual Village Hall - a programme of themed online activities designed to enjoy at home. There are a wide range of activities to take part - from creative arts and crafts to cooking, baking, and technology skills. You can join in with live sessions or catch up on demand when it suits you.
Also, consider getting and looking after a pet. We certainly encourage this at Scalesceugh - we appreciate that pets become part of the family, and offer wonderful companionship.
Above all, remember to talk - and reach out to anyone else who needs a friend.