Battling loneliness: a modern epidemic

The elderly aren't alone in feeling lonely.
The elderly aren't alone in feeling lonely.

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We all have days when we feel slightly alone. Our friends are busy, the kids are away and nobody’s responding to texts or calls.

But this is very different to feeling deeply, inconsolably lonely.

Loneliness is a growing problem in a modern society that spreads people further and further from their family roots and encourages them to interact more with technology than real people.

And while loneliness is an affliction often seen as an ‘old person problem’, the truth is, younger people don’t escape.

Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people than the elderly.

Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe – we Brits are less likely to have strong friendships or know our neighbours than people anywhere else in the EU.

Friends of the Elderly have just published a new report, The Future Of Loneliness, which suggests that by 2030, 40 per cent of older people in the UK will be lonely.

It’s not all without hope though. The charity is now running a Be A Friend campaign (beafriendtoday.org.uk), encouraging people to get to know their older neighbours.

And Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, reminds people that the mental health charity is there to help .

‘Loneliness can have a significant impact on mental health, contributing to problems such as anxiety and depression,’ says Murphy.

While people often feel lonely because of personal circumstances – such as bereavement, relationship breakdown or circumstances that makes it hard to form relationships – sometimes loneliness is a deeper, more constant feeling, she explains. That feeling that doesn’t disappear, no matter how many friends you have.

When this is the case, it’s about learning to make the best of being alone.

Yes, it’s easier said than done, but Murphy has some suggestions. Learn yoga or meditation, to refocus and calm your mind, keep a journal to share your thoughts in and, where circumstances allow, how about getting a pet?

Wherever and whenever you can, also take some steps, however small, to become more connected with the world.

Ask people about themselves and what they’re interested in – people always like talking about themselves.

Join a social group connected to something that interests you, like gardening, walking, sport etc.

The internet is a good way to connect with people. But remember, it’s not the same as seeing someone face-to-face.