Loneliness Awareness Week 2021 - How Can We Help Ourselves And Others Who Are Experiencing Loneliness?

The 14th to the 18th June 2021 is Loneliness Awareness Week; a campaign by The Marmalade Trust, a Bristol based charity, that aims to raise awareness of loneliness and get people talking about it. Loneliness is often surrounded by stigma and can create feelings of shame and embarrassment. Many of us are reluctant in admitting to experiencing loneliness. The Marmalade Trust’s theme for 2021’s Loneliness Awareness Week centres around acknowledgement and acceptance of the existence of loneliness. True acceptance can happen once we talk openly about loneliness. Avoidance of discussing loneliness only contributes to the stigma surrounding it and increases feelings of denial spurred on by shame. For us to truly normalise loneliness, which is vital as it is normal for millions of people around the world, a culture of openness surrounding loneliness needs to be forged. This begins by openly talking about it. 

Did you know that loneliness can have a negative impact on mental health and physical health? Many of us know loneliness often goes hand-in-hand with mental health due to the feelings it can provoke. But loneliness has also been proven to have a strong and negative effect on our physical health. 

The Campaign to End Loneliness have published results of extensive research into loneliness and the impact it can have on our health and wellbeing. 

The Impact of Loneliness on Physical Health and Mental Health – Findings by Campaign to End Loneliness 

  • The likelihood of mortality increases by 26%
  • Loneliness and isolation can impact mortality as much as risk-factors such as obesity and smoking.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke as well as increasing your chances of having high blood pressure.
  • Increases your probability of cognitive decline and dementia.
  • Increases susceptibility to depression.
  • Reduces cognitive function in older adults.
  • A lack of social interaction and loneliness can foreshadow suicide in older age.

Loneliness and Older People

It is widely publicised that many older people experience increased levels of loneliness and a lack of social interaction. It is predicted by 2025 two million over 50’s will experience loneliness. In 2017, this figure was 1.4 million; if this forecast is correct, that is an increase of 49% in a decade. It has also been reported that half a million older people do not speak to or see anyone for at least 5-6 days in the week. In a world with technology at our fingertips, these are sad and shocking statistics. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to help ease loneliness for the older generation: 

  • Regular check-ins: set aside time to phone your parents, grandparents, older relatives or family friends at least twice a week. Even a short conversation will brighten their day!
  • The number of older people who use social media and texting has increased. Make sure you are connected with your older relatives and friends on social media. Although social media is not a replacement for real interaction, it can help to dissipate feelings of loneliness and exclusion if they can see what you are up to. This will also aid regular communication with direct messages, texts and status updates.
  • Encourage your loved ones to take part in community events. For example, older people who live in retirement properties/complexes often have communal congregation areas and shared gardens. Being involved with their neighbours and community would help to reduce loneliness. 
  • Let them know you are thinking of them and book in a visit or a phone call to give them something to look forward to!

For older people who are experiencing loneliness, the NHS website has several tips to help you ease feelings of loneliness. These tips include…

  • Take the time to smile at others and strike up a conversation, even if it is just with a cashier in the supermarket! 
  • Invite family and friends over for a chat, tea or even a meal. Sometimes, it is great to take charge and start the ball rolling yourself.
  • Pick up the phone and give your loved ones a call. They would love to hear from you!
  • If you are not already a computer user or on social media, why not give it a go? Technology is a fantastic way to keep in touch. 
  • Get involved in community activities or even set up an activity group! For example, if you have a communal garden area, why not set up a gardening club? 
  • If your social circle is limited, why not contact Re-engage? This wonderful charity provides free afternoon tea parties for those aged 70 and over. They even provide a pick-up service and take you the host’s home. The pandemic has impacted this service but Re-engage are in the process of starting tea parties again in a safe and appropriate manner. Visit their website for more information. 

Loneliness and Adults

It is not just older people who experience loneliness. The Campaign to End Loneliness reports 45% of adults in England experience loneliness of varying levels with more women reporting feelings of loneliness than men. Loneliness is more prevalent amongst those with health conditions and those who have been widowed. Research has also revealed 50% of people with disabilities will experience loneliness on any given day. 

The above tips can easily be adapted and applied to people of all ages! However, this summary is easy to remember and action. 

  • Keep in touch.
  • Join a group.
  • Reach out and contact others.
  • Do something worthwhile, such as volunteering!

Overcoming loneliness can be daunting; the stigma surrounding it certainly does not help. Mind suggest the following tips to help your overcome loneliness in the least daunting way possible:

  • Take it slow and move at a pace that suits you.
  • Try to forge new connections wherever possible.
  • There are a range of peer support avenues available such as Befriender services, forums and you can even contact your local Mind to find out about peer support services in your area.
  • Be open and communicate your feelings.
  • If you are experiencing feelings of sadness, worry and poor self-esteem, why not try talking therapy? 
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others.
  • Take care of yourself and your wellbeing. Saying “Yes” to yourself is powerful and is the first step to regain control of your wellbeing. 

If social interaction is just not possible on a given day for any reason, there are lots of activities you can do to keep your mind and hands busy! These activities are not a replacement for meaningful interaction, but some days you might not feel able to socialise or people in your life might be busy. These activities are ideal for such occasions. 

  • Gardening
  • Baking and cooking
  • Reading 
  • Spring cleaning!
  • Decluttering and rearranging your living space
  • Taking a walk 
  • Arts and crafts, such as sewing, sketching and painting
  • Writing letters, poetry or stories
  • Researching into topics of interest to you
  • Soak up the sun and listen to the sounds of nature
  • Practice deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness
  • Complete a virtual yoga or Pilates class
  • If you are struggling with your feelings, you can call a range of helplines for support which are free and confidential

The Marmalade Trust have an array of fantastic resources to support you if you are experiencing loneliness; their website is worth a visit! 

The most important thing to remember if you are feeling lonely is, ironically, you are not alone. You might feel alone or be physically alone, but you are not alone in feeling that way. Take a breath, gather your thoughts and use the resources and advice available at your fingertips. 

If you are struggling and feel you require some support or advice, you can visit our Wellbeing Hub which contains an abundance of free resources and articles. You may also be interested in reading our article 3 Activities to Positively Impact Your Mental Wellbeing.

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