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Loneliness – a growing problem

Guest blogger Ella Hendrix details the first signs of loneliness in friends

Due to advancements in medicine as well as social factors, we are seeing more and more people living for longer. This, of course, is something to celebrate, but it also means that we are seeing a rise in loneliness in the UK.

Helping Hands, who have been working as carers for over 30 years, suggest that “there are many people who live on their own with little or no contact with others. Their lack of structured social interaction could lead to loneliness and depression.”

Why is Loneliness Important?

Research shows that loneliness can have a major impact not only on our mental health but also our physical health. According to Campaign to End Loneliness, loneliness can increase the likelihood of mortality by 26% and can be as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. They also state that it can cause cognitive decline and increase risk of clinical dementia and mental health conditions such as depression.

As people get older several factors can make loneliness more likely. These include:

  • An increase in mobility issues
  • A reduction of accessible social gatherings
  • The passing of partners and friends

Therefore, it is important that friends and family members are aware of and look out for signs of loneliness in their elderly loved ones. It is also important to remember, however, that loneliness can affect anyone of any age.

Circumstances of Loneliness

One of the problems with identifying whether someone is lonely is that there are no exact symptoms to ‘diagnose loneliness’. There are some circumstances that can lend themselves to making a person feel lonely, however, so the first step that you can do is identify that a person is at risk. Here are examples of factors which can contribute to loneliness:

  • They have recently suffered the bereavement of a loved one
  • They live alone
  • They aren’t very mobile
  • They suffer from – or have recently suffered from – an illness
  • They don’t regularly leave the house
  • They have an impairment such as deafness or blindness
  • They don’t have close friends or family living nearby – or have moved to a new area
  • They live in a rural area
  • They are responsible for the care of a loved one
  • They are on a low income

It is also important to remember that loneliness isn’t just about not being with people. Sometimes you can be surrounded by people, but still feel lonely. Sometimes you only need one small conversation with someone to stop feeling lonely. In other words – it’s about the quality of the people around you or their conversation, not the quantity.

Signs of Loneliness

Everyone experiences and displays loneliness in different ways. Here are some examples of signs that a friend or family member is experiencing loneliness:

  • Sleep problems
  • Taking longer showers or baths
  • Attachments to material possessions
  • More time spent on social media
  • A tendency to overreact
  • Weight gain through over-eating and/or a lack of motivation to do exercise
  • Putting less effort into personal hygiene or physical appearance
  • Depressive symptoms

Tips to reduce loneliness

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to loneliness. However, there are some practical things that you can suggest that might help your loved one feel better. These include:

  • Introducing older friends or relatives to social media as a method of communication – it can help them to stay connected to friends and family – especially if they are living far away
  • Suggesting they take up a new hobby or revitalising an old one, such as joining a choir, bridge club or a ‘knit and natter’ group
  • Lunch clubs, afternoon tea clubs or coffee mornings are a great way to make new friends
  • Try to visit or speak to them regularly
  • Encourage them to reach out to loved ones if they are feeling lonely
  • Volunteering for a charity or community organisation can be hugely rewarding
  • Encourage them to go to visit other local people who are in a similar situation
  • Employ a care worker to visit the house, especially if your loved one struggles to manage their home

Loneliness is a growing problem in the UK. The best way to help our loved ones is to be aware of the signs of loneliness and act when we identify them.

Having a mental health problem can increase your change of feeling lonely. Dorset Mind want to help people who are struggling with their mental health through talking about it. If you need support, Dorset Mind run weekly and bi-weekly support groups throughout Dorset, find the right one for you here.

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