Lonely this Christ­mas?

What can we do to com­bat the lone­li­ness epi­demic that hits hard­est at this time of year?

Pick Me Up! - - CONTENTS -

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

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