Loneliness is a very harmful condition and, unfortunately for all of us, it is on the increase. Here are some facts, established by researchers.
- Loneliness In England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women
- It is reaching epidemic proportions among young people
- It is a great affliction for older people
- It is twice as deadly as obesity
- It is as potent a cause of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism, accidents depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide are all more prevalent amongst lonely people
- The cost to employers is estimated at £2.5bn a year
- At least 1 in 10 people attending family doctors say they are lonely
- Loneliness increases risk of an early death by 26%
- Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe
George Monbiot, the writer known for his environmental and political activism, calls this the “Age of Loneliness” and reminds us that early humans had to depend on each other for their very existence, whereas today we live more and more apart. He concludes that we are naturally social creatures and we cannot cope alone. (See the age of loneliness is killing us.)
As society changes, as we age and as our loved ones die, we can all expect to experience loneliness at some time. However, we can and must take steps to recover from it. One way to do this is to be kind to others. Kindness – the embodiment of empathy – is a way of reaching out and, in so doing, making contact with other people who may need help just as much as you do.
Here are some other practical steps to combat loneliness:
- Talk about your feelings. Loneliness isn’t your fault and there are people there to offer support. Your GP is a good person to start with and there are phone lines such as SupportLine for children and young adults, or The Silver Line for folk aged 55 or over.
- Do something new. Meet people and rejuvenate your curiosity for life by becoming proactive in a new interest. Men’s Shed, for example, is a great place for older men to meet and work on practical projects together.
- Contribute. Identify a cause that interests you, find a group of like-minded people and volunteer. It could mean joining community gardening group, or setting up an initiative, like the Rural Coffee Caravan, or taking part in a telephone-based book group.
- Phone a friend. Approach positively someone you’ve not seen for a while – chat and suggest meeting up ‘I was thinking of you and let’s grab coffee…’. You might find a warmer welcome than you expected.
One of my favourite psychologists, Guy Winch, talks movingly – and entertainingly – about loneliness in his TED presentation The Case for Emotional Hygiene . I recommend you check it out for inspiration and guidance.
I’m off to phone a friend or two – how about you?