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Simple acts to ensure no one suffers loneliness

By Rosalyn Palmer

Among all the merry Christmas songs are some sadder ones, such as Elvis’s Lonely this Christmas. Sadly, it is not only Christmas that finds many of us lonely. It is estimated that over 40% of us will feel the aching pangs of loneliness at some point in our lives.

A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals more than 9m people in the UK across all adult ages are either always or often lonely.

Yet despite how common loneliness is, few people are fully aware of the dramatic ways in which it impacts us.

Photo Credit Ursula Kelly. (4147635)
Photo Credit Ursula Kelly. (4147635)

Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

It is worse for you than obesity and is likely to increase your risk of death by 29%.

Chronic loneliness threatens the health of one in ten older people with around a million termed as chronically lonely at any given time in the UK, seriously increasing their risk of suffering mental and physical illness.

According to a recent report from Age UK, The Campaign To End Loneliness and the Office for National Statistics, over half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, there are 1.2m chronically lonely older people in the UK and half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

Not surprisingly then that Tracey Crouch MP was appointed this year as the first Government Minister for loneliness.

Yet loneliness is not just a factor of age.

A survey by Action For Children found that 43% of 17 – 25-year-olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness, and that of this same group less than half said they felt loved.

It also reported that 24% of parents surveyed said they were always or often lonely.

Mental health charity Sense says that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day.

So is it modern life that is making us lonely?

Social interaction and a search for a sense of wellbeing are hardwired into all of us.

We are basically tribal people who want to connect and belong so meeting together in communal areas such as the kitchen to share meals with no phones at the table and no TV blaring in the background is key.

My memories of childhood include sitting with my Grandma watching Call My Bluff and Dad’s Army, so some shared screen time is also important as is going outside either into the garden or for a walk in the park or neighbourhood.

The simple act of saying hello to an elderly neighbour, or for that matter a neighbour of any age, can be a vital lifeline.

Ask them if you can get them anything from the shops, or join a scheme such as Spare Chair Sunday campaign, a partnership between Contact The Elderly and Bisto, which encourages you to invite an elderly lonely neighbour to Sunday lunch or afternoon tea.

That way no one needs to be lonely this or any other Christmas.

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