Lonely this Christmas?
What can we do to combat the loneliness epidemic that hits hardest at this time of year?
Forget turkey dinners and getting presents. When you break it down, for most of us, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if it weren’t for our loved ones. So what happens to the people out there who don’t have friends and family to celebrate with?
At any given time of the year, almost a fifth of our population say they always or often feel lonely. But, at Christmas, the figures rocket. And it’s not just the elderly who are suffering. An increasing amount of younger adults are, too. In 2016, one in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 who took part in a survey by mental health charity Mind said they had no-one to spend Christmas with, compared with one in 20 older people. This was backed up by recent research by the Office for National Statistics, which found people aged 16-24 were three times more likely to feel lonely than those aged 65 and above.
Yet if more of us are feeling isolated, around two-thirds of us still feel uncomfortable admitting to it – which only adds to the sense of loneliness.
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, told Pick Me Up!, ‘Loneliness is not the same as being alone.
‘Some people choose to be alone, and they live happily without much contact with other people. Others may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family – and still feel lonely.
‘Loneliness can contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression,’ he says.
‘There’s a lot of emphasis placed on Christmas and its significance, and there are expectations that it should be a time for celebration with family and friends.
‘At Christmas, existing problems can seem even bigger – if you’re lonely, it can highlight just how lonely you are and make you feel that you should be socialising.’ Stephen continues, ‘For many people, Christmas is something to look forward to, but some may be embarking on the first Christmas after losing friends or family, may be unable to make long journeys to see loved ones, may have moved to a new area and some may be spending the festive period entirely alone.’ In June, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new £20 million investment to help tackle loneliness, pouring much-needed funds into charities and community groups.
Mrs May said at the time, ‘Feeling lonely or isolated can have a profound and devastating impact on people’s lives. It can affect anyone, of any age and from any background. The new funding set out today will make a big difference, helping more people to establish and maintain connections.’
But when will we actually
Over 9 million people in the UK say they are always or often lonely.
begin to see the results of that significant cash injection?
Not by this Christmas, as there will still be millions of people facing isolation.
One of them is Rae Radford, 54, from Herne Bay in Kent. Rae has always felt isolated at this time of year.
‘When I was 7, my dad Keith was killed in a motorbike accident on 19 December 1972. He was only 46 and left my mum a single parent to three children.
‘That Christmas was probably the worst of my life. We didn’t – we couldn’t – celebrate, so I spent the day in my room all alone,’ she said.
‘After that, Christmas became a reminder of what I’d lost and I only started to celebrate it again when
I got married.
‘But, in December 1990, it felt as though my Christmases were cursed when my marriage broke down after 10 years. It was yet another lonely time for me. I felt like a robot that’d lost its batteries,’ she says.
‘It’s a feeling I’ve grown accustomed to over the years and, every Christmas, I have this sinking sensation. It makes me feel incredibly low.’
We’re living in a time where socialising has never been easier, with the use of dating and friendship apps and our obsession with social media.
But, despite that, two-fifths of older people say their television is their main company and 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week.
City socializer, a friendship app founded by Sanchita Saha in 2009, sees a significant seasonal high during Christmas – in fact, 33% more people sign up during the festive period.
Sanchita told Pick Me Up!, ‘There are several drivers for people signing up to City socializer over Christmas, including not having family nearby, being the only one not in a relationship in a circle of friends or moving to a new area where you don’t know people.’
And Sanchita isn’t the only one who’s trying to find ways to help combat loneliness. The charity Age UK runs events over Christmas and offers a year-round, free weekly friendship call, as well as a befriending service with a visit from a volunteer. And the Campaign to End Loneliness – part of the charity Independent Age – has been set up to help those who feel isolated.
But there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Take a minute over the festive period to think about others who may be lonely. Is there someone you know who’d appreciate you reaching out with an invitation? If it’s you who’s on your own this holiday season, consider calling someone, dropping a card round to a neighbour or volunteering to help others. And, above all else, be kind to yourself this Christmas.
Rae Radford: feelings of isolation