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Loneliness, A stark Reality For Many This Christmas

Posted by Doctaly on

The United Kingdom is the second loneliest country in the world according to www.immigroup.com and Europe’s capital for loneliness!

In fact, it seems that The United Kingdom is so lonely that it appointed a Minister For Loneliness ‘to deal with what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life” for too many people.’ (http://time.com/5107252/minister-for-loneliness-uk/).

It seems a complete paradox to me that with modern life, we still have a reported 1.2 million people suffering from chronic loneliness. We are seemingly connected to thousands, and I do use the word seemingly in satire, because it is probably where part of the issue lies. We have become so good at pretending that our lives are made of daily sunshine and successes that we have become trapped and alienated in what is a vicious circle. You rarely see someone posting a picture of themselves looking sad, without make up or anyone posting ‘I feel lonely and depressed today’; And if they did it would be perceived as attention seeking. Yet, there is a whole wider issue, which is not just related to our use of social media, and which relates to society evolving and the gradual break-up of our family structure. Once upon a time, we had large families and most family members would live close to each other. Today, most people travel, settle overseas, or in different areas of the UK, work away, work all day and far too many older adults find themselves isolated, through no fault of their own. Who is responsible? Life is. Life happens as they say, with some small gradual changes, a society much more into itself than it cares to admit, priorities that one day we come to realise are no real priorities at all, and slowly, we learn to ignore those that feel lonely, because we all live such busy lives.

Age UK shows that nearly a million older people feel lonelier at Christmas time, two-fifths of whom have been widowed. That is a gruesome reality! Here is the thing. Ageing happens to us all, it is only a matter of time.

Ageing is a series of processes that begin with life and continue throughout the life cycle. It represents the closing period in the lifespan, a time when the individual looks back on life, lives on past accomplishments and begins to finish off his life course. Adjusting to the changes that accompany old age requires that an individual is flexible and develops new coping skills to adapt to the changes that are common to this time in their lives (Warnick,1995).

Adjusting and adapting to ageing, that is a real challenge and much more so when you are completely deprived of human interaction. I recently watched a video by Age UK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inyaBPWdZIM&feature=youtu.be.

It is such a powerful representation about loneliness in older adults, particularly at this time of year when all seems bright, glittery and merry. My house prepares for Christmas, festive music playing in the background, a tree glistening with lights and decorations and I count how many will be at our table on Christmas day and Boxing day. Yet for so many the reality of Christmas is completely different, it is damning reminder that they will have no family visiting this Christmas, often no family left, no friends to share a meal with and simply a complete lack of human contact.

I could not imagine my life without seeing friends and family, could you? I wonder sometimes, what it might feel like, but I seldom linger too long on the thought because it is discomforting. For many in later life, friends might have passed, or life may have meant that contacts were lost, and day after day, the only person that you can talk to is yourself. Watching a television programme is no replacement for face to face contact, it is merely a window on the outside world, one in which many have lost their place. Half of those said to suffer from loneliness rely on TV for companionship at Christmas (www.ageuk.org.uk). I recently researched online, ways in which I could welcome an older person at my table this Christmas and read that many like me where asking about it. The reality is that loneliness is not just a Christmas thing, for too many it is an all year ‘thing’, but I suppose at this time of year, it feels all the more acute. Supporting charities that help older adults can help make a difference. Research has shown that approximately 1.2 million people suffer from chronic loneliness in the UK, and loneliness has dire consequences on your health. To name a couple – increased risk of cardio-vascular and mental health conditions. Loneliness has cost and moral implications for society at large. We should all feel concerned by it.

Charities that help with lonely people however are not able to reach everyone and those who suffer from loneliness the most are unlikely to say they do. Making a difference starts by becoming more aware and thus caring more about loneliness. It is about knowing who is vulnerable and who may welcome a little chat from time to time. It is about taking the time to have these interactions and setting aside our terribly busy lives from time to time. We will invariably become richer for it metaphorically and pragmatically as a society.

Posted in: Mental Wellbeing