It’s likely that all of us have, at some point, experienced what it’s like to be lonely, and it isn’t a good feeling. As human beings, we’re naturally social creatures and thrive on contact with other people, although how much contact is needed will vary from person to person, so finding yourself lonely every now and then shouldn’t be too much of a worry provided it isn’t for extended periods of time.
There are large numbers of people in the UK today who do suffer from long term loneliness however. While many of us might think that ‘loneliness’ is a vague term or a relatively trivial complaint, it is actually a recognised medical condition that can have serious implications, and the number of lonely people in the UK is noticeably on the rise. Figures suggest that the effects of loneliness prompts a hugely significant number of GP visits every year, and councils and mental health services are struggling to cope with the increasing demands placed on them. Associated health risks include a greater chance of high blood pressure, added mental stress, and the physical effects that pose a greater health threat than smoking or being obese. All of that means a 30% increased risk of dying in those who suffer from loneliness.
There is a trend here. Roughly 1 million people who suffer from feeling lonely are aged 65 and over, and it’s not hard to reason why. As people get older, families can move on and often elderly people are left without close relatives living nearby. Without work or education, or even the ability to get out and about, elderly members of society can feel stuck, listless, and ultimately lonely.
As a result of this growing proportion of society that suffers from being alone, many people want to find what kind of support is out there and how to get it, whether it is the person themselves or a close family member. The following is a few places to start, though this list is by no means comprehensive:
Ask your local council – Sometimes local councils will have schemes in place to reduce the number of lonely people in the community. This is most often brought about by local volunteers who pay regular visits to elderly people in that county. Depending on the size of the organisation this may include things such as group day trips and tea and coffee mornings people can look forward to, or giving out more detailed information about how to prevent the feeling of being lonely.
Consider a pet – This is most certainly not for everyone, so think carefully about this step before proceeding. As mentioned, many people who suffer from loneliness are elderly, and as such a low maintenance companion is probably best. Human contact isn’t always necessary to stave off the feeling of being lonely, and pets have a proven track record of therapeutic value.
Try and get out – This may not be possible for some, but taking steps to be more active in the community can bring you closer to other people as well as allowing you to take on issues of local importance. There’s always part time volunteering work to be done, so you can bet there are people out there who would welcome the help.
Start a project – While this might seem like a temporary distraction, it can help to lift you out of your loneliness without you even realising it. Teaching yourself a language, learning a new skill, or being artistic isn’t just a great way of passing the time and increasing your self worth, it can also bring new and old people into your life.
Call Silver Line – A free and confidential telephone helpline providing “information, friendship and advice to older people.” Visit https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/ or call 0800 4 70 80 90.
Being lonely is not an inevitable part of getting older – as a community we have the power to change it and make everyone else’s lives just a little better.