Over Christmas and New Year many of us put in extra effort to see loved ones, but it is worth remembering that for some this is a lonely time of year. A recent poll carried out by the BBC revealed that 10% of over 65s spend Christmas mostly alone.
Of course, loneliness can be an issue at any age – the Mental Health Foundation found in 2010 over a third of people aged 18-34 worried about feeling lonely.
On the surface feeling lonely may not seem like a big concern, but it is in fact a serious public health issue that should be addressed all year round. Loneliness and isolation has been described as being as ‘bad for you’ as ‘smoking 15 cigarettes a day’ and ‘worse than obesity’ by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Feeling lonely has also been linked to the development of a number of health problems, such as depression, dementia and high blood pressure. So, how can we combat loneliness? The Campaign to End Loneliness has the following advice:
If you feel lonely
Start a new hobby
Joining a group, whether it be educational or social, has been shown to help overcome loneliness for many. You’ll meet others with similar interests and get that all-important social interaction.
Talk to someone about feeling lonely
It can be hard to admit to feeling lonely, but once you do you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel. Loneliness is often caused by a loss – perhaps loss of a loved one, loss of a job or even loss of confidence. Whatever the cause, it is important to realise it isn’t your fault. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can speak to, consider getting in touch with a professional.
If you want to help others
Helping people in your community who may be feeling lonely is often simple and enjoyable. There are many options to choose from, you could instigate a telephone-based book group for housebound people, volunteer at your local nursing home or simply check in on your older neighbours for a cup of tea and conversation.
Earlier this month Radio 5 Live launched an initiative called #Take10 which encourages people to think about who they could spend 10 minutes talking to. Pledge to make a call to old friends or distant family – even if they’re not lonely.