Anyone can be affected by loneliness, and it can have a major impact on our mental health. Elderly people especially are at risk of suffering from loneliness: according to Age UK, over two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour, or family member.
However, loneliness can affect anyone, and people can become socially isolated for many reasons, such as injury, age, no longer being the centre of the family or social group, leaving the workplace and retirement, the death of a spouse, family member, or friend, or due to a disability or existing mental health condition, such as social anxiety.
Even seasons can have an effect – it can be particularly difficult to get out and about during a harsh winter, for example. This is known as Seasonal Affected Disorder.
You can be socially isolated without feeling lonely, and you can feel lonely even when surrounded by people. The late comic actor Robin Williams once commented on this feeling: “I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone”.
Isolation can also lead to further conditions developing, such as depression and personality disorders. Research has found that people who experienced long-term social isolation were at an increased risk of death, heart disease, strokes, alcoholism, drug abuse, and the onset of dementia, than those who had regular social contact. However, even
If you live alone and find it hard to get out and about, there is a lot you can do to reduce the effects of loneliness.
Loneliness at first can seem like a vicious circle. Loneliness feeds depression, and the lack of motivation from depression feeds the loneliness. Taking that initial first step to break the cycle can seem difficult, but it isn’t impossible.
Think back to a time when you felt something was out of reach, but once you made that initial step and made progress, it became easier, and you became happier. It could be something as complicated as a relationship, or something as simple as a big job you had to do.
There are small things you can do to reduce the effects of loneliness -
Socialise whenever you can. Even if it’s just a short conversation with the cashier at the grocery store, or the person next to you in the waiting room at the dentists
Invite friends or family over. You may feel they don’t want to visit you, especially younger relatives, but they will appreciate an invitation to spend some time with you
Telephone. Simply having a chat with a relative or friend over the phone can be a good way to reduce the stress of being alone
Learn to use computers. If your friends and family live far away, services such as Skype, FaceTime, Viber, Facebook, and Twitter can help you keep in touch
Get out and about. One advantage of being older is public transport is better value
Joining a local club or society. It might be a good idea to pick something that you have a genuine interest in and try to find a group who also have the same interests.
It may not seem it, but owning a pet can have a huge positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health.
A study carried out by the Mental Health Foundation and Cats Protection in 2011 found that 87 percent of those who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76 percent said they could cope with everyday life better than before, because of the company their cat provided. Half of cat owners felt their cat’s presence and companionship was the most helpful factor in their wellbeing, while a third described having a cat as a calming and helpful activity.
Caring for a pet can also make you feel valuable and needed, as you are responsible for the care of another. Dogs especially are effective at this, as they require daily walks and a lot of attention, especially breeds such as Huskies. Walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners, and can help you to stay socially connected with the world.
There are many support groups that can help you with reducing the effects of loneliness, such as friendship groups, help with learning how to use computers, and helping others. See below for further information.
The Silver Line (0800 470 8090)
Independent Age (0800 319 6789)
Age UK (0800 169 2081)
Friends of the Elderly (020 7730 8263)
Community Network (020 7923 5250) brings people together on the phone each week to talk as a group.