When you need a friend
If you’re on your own, and feeling lonely, do not despair. There are plenty of other people feeling the same way – and plenty who want to help. Amy Fordham investigates. Additional reporting by Rachel Banham.
With Christmas and New Year celebrations drawing to a close, some people are enjoying time with family and friends. But some simply sit alone at home wishing the season would pass by quickly without too much fuss.
Feeling lonely is something we all experience from time to time – but after losing a loved one, loneliness can take its hold stronger than ever before.
Maybe you feel alone because your partner has died and there’s no one around the house any more. Maybe you’ve been caring for a loved one who has fallen ill and as a result you’ve drifted from your friends.
Maybe you’ve lost your son or daughter, the child you’ve raised and watched grow, normally round for a Sunday roast armed with grandchildren and stories of their young lives; or maybe, you don’t get out enough.
According to a campaign to combat loneliness called Endloneliness, research shows that 10 per cent of older people feel ‘always’ or ‘severely’ lonely. According to a WRVS report, published in May 2012, older people in Britain are the loneliest across four comparable European countries.
Around 13 per cent of men and women of an older age who live alone don’t get out and about in their communities due to ill health; 15 per cent have said they have no one to accompany them and wouldn’t like to go out alone. Other reports show 12 per cent of older people feel trapped in their own home, 6 per cent leave their house once a week or less and 11 per cent are in contact with their family, friends and neighbours less than once a month.
Some 200,000 older people in Britain have no help with getting out of their house, 26 per cent reported giving up on their hobbies due to feeling alone and 21 per cent agreed that they don’t leave the house for days.
A worrying 9 per cent say they no longer eat properly and one in eight worry about their mental health because they have no one to talk to. For most, the hardest part is admitting that they feel isolated and alone – but not seeking help can lead to bigger problems than simply an emotional experience.
Endloneliness states that: “Researchers rate loneliness as a similar health risk as lifelong smoking, with links between a lack of social interaction and the onset of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s; an illness which costs the NHS an estimated £20 billion a year. Loneliness has also been linked in medical research to heart disease and depression.
Something can be done, and it is simpler than you think – there is help out there and it does work, according to many that have already sought after much needed help and advice, easily accessible in their local area. There are many groups and organisations that can help you meet like-minded people and get you socialising again.
Age UK is one of the groups that can help, a registered charity, offering a range of services: “Age UK has a vision of a world in which older people flourish. They aim to improve later life for everyone through their information and advice, campaigns, products, training and research – because just like growing up, getting older doesn’t come with a manual.”
Community Development Manager for Age UK Norfolk, Eamon McGrath, said: “The best solutions to combat loneliness are those tailored to the individual’s needs, however, there are some things that are generic such as community transport schemes to help people get out, engaging people in community activities and group activities wherever possible and befriending either by home visiting or over the telephone.”
Age UK say that one chat on the phone can make all the difference. ‘Friendship calls’ provide you with weekly phone calls lasting around 20 minutes from trained volunteers. A ‘Good Day Call’ offers you a short chat several times a week, at a time that suits you best.
There are also visits from befrienders, providing you with company and conversation over a cup of tea – a time to vent your feelings and talk about your day. Ronnie, in his seventies, takes advantage of the service; he has health problems and finds it difficult to get out and about. He has been befriended by telephone for three years and has built a great relationship with volunteer, Joe, who has left Norfolk to go to university but still calls Ronnie.
When asked what difference the befriending made, Ronnie said: “I really enjoy my calls, Joe talks to me like one of the boys. The calls make me feel like I am not left alone in this world”.
There are many other services like these, for example UNITE, where different groups meet around Norfolk.
Every month, groups meet in their preferred meeting place to organise a newsletter, members each come up with an idea of what they would like to do, from boat rides, coffee dates and cinema evenings. The newsletter full of organised events is mailed out to people and members can choose to come along if they wish.
Because it’s hard to join a group of people you don’t know, you initially get paired with a ‘buddy’; this person will introduce themselves to you and help you settle in.
Jennifer Edmond, 71, from Norfolk, attends the meetings. She said: “I like helping people, that is why I came here. I like to arrange the events and take people to different and unusual places in Norfolk. I most enjoyed going to Ken’s fish and chips in Wroxham.
“Today I’ve proposed going to Rosy Lee’s Tea Room in the Norfolk Broads – there was an article in The Times and I heard about it on the radio so that’s why I thought of the idea.”
Douglas Walters, 35, who grew up in Norwich said: “I have been with the group since 2007. I left Norwich University when I was 19 and most of my friends moved onto other places. I had a job in Norwich in administration and my only friends were at work. I was then dismissed from my job and wanted to expand to other friendships. It was overwhelming coming here at first, but after a while I got to know people.”
Age UK advice: Tel 0800169 6565
Find out more about Age UK’s befriending service by visiting the website at: www.ageuk.org.uk
Campaign to End Loneliness