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.
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 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.
Loneliness Awareness Week (15-19 June 2020) is organised by The Marmalade Trust (the name inspired by Paddington Bear), and was established in 2016 with the vision to create a society where anyone can talk freely and openly about loneliness.
The Trust is staging a virtual campaign called ‘One Less Lonely Voice’ - taking the ‘one’ out of loneliness.
A spokesperson said: “We all have different experiences of loneliness, and to better understand loneliness, we need to be open and talk about it.”
During a pandemic, especially, this ‘talking’ can of course be done online, and The Marmalade Trust has been encouraging people to have conversations on social media, using the hashtags #LetsTalkLoneliness and #LonelinessAwarenessWeek.
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 will be living in, to tackle the feelings we get from it, and how we act in reaction to them."
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.
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 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.
Start a hobby for better mental health
It’s also of great benefit to start a new hobby or revive an old one. Getting enjoyment from gardening, for example, or unleashing your creative juices are proven ways to lift the spirit, give you a sense of purpose and beat loneliness.
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.