Loneliness Awareness Week 2020 runs from 15 – 19th June and is run by the Marmalade Trust; a charity that raises awareness of loneliness and helps people to make new connections.
Loneliness is a feeling of being disconnected from others, whether physically, emotionally or both. You may live alone and have little contact with the outside world or you may have other people present in your life, but with whom you interact with very little.
The feeling of loneliness can happen at any point in your life, but there are certain groups of people who are most likely to be affected. Children and young adults may experience loneliness, despite being surrounded by others at school, college or university. Similarly, many older people are lonely due to a mixture of living alone and health issues making it more challenging for them to see other people. Age UK estimates that there are 1.2 million older people in the UK who are chronically lonely. People living in poverty may also struggle with loneliness as they lack the financial resources to be able to socialise or travel to meet friends and relatives.
As well as having a detrimental effect on mental health, loneliness can take its toll physically too – lonely people are more likely to suffer from heart disease, dementia, strokes and depression. This may then start a vicious circle as ill health can prevent people from going out to meet others.
Our current predicament, living in a world of restrictions to our movements thanks to Covid-19, more people than ever are likely to be experiencing loneliness as many people are shielding and all of us have had our social networks disrupted to differing degrees. While a number of us can rely on technology to maintain connections with friends and relatives, there are groups within society who aren’t able to. They may lack equipment to do so, know-how or language skills. The pandemic has shown us that any of us can be affected by loneliness.
Before coronavirus, community groups were an essential lifeline to many as they enabled people to come together for events or activities, while allowing them to get to know new people. Things are very different now, especially for the elderly who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 as well as loneliness. Protecting themselves from a harmful disease comes at the expense of cutting themselves off from other people.
For those of us in a position to help combat loneliness, what can we do? If you have any neighbours whom you know to live alone, why not pop a note through their door to introduce yourself and put your contact details on there so that your neighbour can call or email you.
There are a number of organisations around the country and within Newcastle who aim to help alleviate loneliness. HenPower, based here in Newcastle is one such project and while their normal activities aren’t happening due to Covid-19, their HenPals initiative encourages volunteers to write letters detailing creative interests (art, music, theatre etc) and they link letter-writers to care home residents with similar interests. AgeUK offer a number of befriending services to enable people to connect with others, whether face-to-face or over the telephone. Mind, the mental health charity, have loads of resources too (and have updated information, to reflect Covid-19).