With over 7.7 billion people living in the world, it seems hard to imagine that it can be a lonely place. But even in a world which is at the brink of being overpopulated, loneliness is an increasing phenomenon.

How to combat loneliness

Coming up:

 

Loneliness statistics:

  • Levels of loneliness are higher in younger people with 40% feeling lonely, compared with only 27% of over 75s.
  • People who feel lonely have more ‘online only’ Facebook friends.
  • Only a third believe that loneliness is about being on your own.
  • Nearly half of older people (49% of 65+ UK) say that television or pets are their main form of company.
  • Loneliness can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • People with a high degree of loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as people with a low degree of loneliness.
  • 86% of over 65s say they are satisfied with their personal relationships. This is the lowest of all age groups.
  • Only 46% of over 65s said they spent time together with their family on most or every day, compared to 65-76% for other ages. 12% of over 65s said they never spent time with their family.
  • Over 65s also spent less time with friends: only 35% spent time with friends most or every day in the last 2 weeks, and 12% never did.
  • People who took part in more health-maintaining and independence-maintaining behaviours were less likely to feel isolated and more likely to feel that their community was a good one to grow old in.
  • Nearly half (49%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone.
  • 9% of older people feel trapped in their own home.
  • 6% of older people (nearly 600,000) leave their house once a week or less.
  • 30% say they would like to go out more often.
  • According to research for DWP, nearly a quarter (24%) of pensioners do not go out socially at least once a month.
  • Nearly 200,000 older people in the UK do not receive the help they need to get out of their house or flat.
  • 17% of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours.
  • 11% have less than monthly contact.
  • 41% of people aged 65 and over in the UK feel out of touch with the pace of modern life and 12% say they feel cut off from society.

 

Negative effects of loneliness

Solitary confinement is considered to be the worst form of punishment in prison, as it leaves detrimental psychological effects on the person in isolation.

The fact that we use isolation as a punishment tool in prisons is proof that we are not meant to feel lonely. We are social beings, with a deep need to have a sense of belonging and connection to others.

But as the statistics above prove, there is a large part of society today living with loneliness. Loneliness is detrimental to the self.

 

Loneliness is known to cause depression, sleep deprivation, heart disease, Alzheimers and inability to self regulate which can lead to emotional overeating and addictions with alcohol or drugs as a way to soothe unbearable feelings of isolation.

 

But that is not all.

Researchers at the University of California have proven that loneliness worsens our health by negatively influencing our genes and even our immune system.

The study suggests that the painful experience of loneliness switches on our bodies primordial responses, making us fight or flight. This response allows viruses to hit harder and cancers spread more quickly as the white blood cells seem to be more active in a way that increases inflammation. While this is good for protecting wounds, it lowers the immune systems viral defence.

 

The body can’t handle increased inflammation of white blood cells for long periods of time. So lonelier people have higher chronic inflammation- which links to increased risk of cancer, neurodegenerative disease and viral infections.

Steve Cole, a genomics researcher and lead researcher on the study says, “At this point, my best guess was that loneliness really is one of the most threatening experiences we can have”.

Loneliness in the elderly

Loneliness occurs far too often for the most vulnerable members of our society. We are saddened when we think of our elderly who not only suffer social isolation but a low quality of life and poor health made worse by loneliness. Over half of over 75’s live alone, and with no social groups to belong to, they inevitably become extremely lonely.

 

Dementia and Loneliness

People who are lonely have a higher risk of developing dementia and people with dementia have an increased risk of becoming lonely. It swings both ways. Over a third of people with dementia say they feel lonely, and have lost friends since being diagnosed.

 

Feeling lonely also extends to the cares of people living with dementia. Alzheimers.org reported that More than half of all carers who support someone with dementia for 20 hours or more a week said they felt lonely recently.”

Loneliness in our youth

Teenagers

A national study of over 55,000 people found that 16-24-year-olds now suffer the most with loneliness- more than any other age category.

Young Children

Children are often thought of as the essence of happiness. Which makes it even more concerning that our youngest members of society are suffering in silence.

The Children’s Society carried out research that found, children with no friends have low levels of well-being, low life satisfaction and low levels of happiness.

It’s important for parents to create opportunities for children to play and socialise with friends and children of the same age. Those who don’t have impacted social competence, academic skills and motivation to learn.

It’s important for parents who are lonely to break the link in the chain and to ensure their child doesn’t grow up socially isolated.

 

Why is it that our youth are becoming the loneliest?

Is the introduction of social media? Our lack of community?

A generation or two ago, many families would attend church every Sunday. Alongside school friends, many children would socialise within their religious circles too.

Church attendance is decreasing year on year, but instead of finding another social group to belong to, many families are losing a large part of their once social group outside of schools and work.

 

Loneliness cure:

 

Self-service checkouts, self-paying kiosks at petrol stations, self-ordering at fast food stores and even using our smartphones on public transport. These are all conveniences that we choose to use at the expense of being social.

Many of us live a path that enables us to avoid human interaction, however, the cost is making our society a more lonesome place.

 

There are many ways we can all improve loneliness within our communities.

Charity, Action Mental Health has 5 steps to take to  promote well-being:

 

  1. Being active
  2. Take notice (relax and take in the environment)
  3. Connecting with others 
  4. Keep learning
  5. To give

 

Step 3: connecting with others, is imperative to well-being. It’s important for all members of society to have good relationships and connectedness with others. Healthy and positive interactions with others are proven to have a positive effect on our physical health.

 

Professor Nichola Rooney, supporter of Action Mental Health says, “one of the most important things we can do to protect and promote our mental health is to find ways of connecting with other people and of developing positive relationships.”

 

LAUGH (Ludic Artefacts Using Gesture and Haptics)

dementia cure

Thelma with HUG device

We recently stumbled across the wonderful LAUGH project on Twitter and saw how they have transformed Thelma’s life- an elderly woman in her late 90s living with advanced dementia.

Bedridden, barely able to open her eyes and rarely spoke, the carers of Thelma said she needed nurturing- in particular a hug.  That’s when the researchers at LAUGH developed an innovative sensory device called HUG.

Leader of the project, Professor Cathy Treadaway says:

 Hugs seem to fulfil two roles in this regard: they involve you in giving the hug, but they are also reciprocal. Our design was focused on creating an object that Thelma could hug and that would hug her too. We settled on a soft baby-type shape, with weighted limbs. It was a very experiential thing and more about what it feels like than looks like.” HUG looks like a soft toy on the outside, but it has electronics inside that simulate a beating heart and can play a selected playlist of music.”

Amazingly Thelma instantly took to hugging the device, and after a week she vastly improved. She became more alert, her appetite came back, she began to speak and socialise and her frequent falls stopped. The HUG device had immensely improved her quality of life and made her feel much less lonely.

You can follow the LAUGH project on Twitter here: @LAUGHCardiffMet

 

Just Say Hello – Duncan Raban

This brings us onto the next amazing movement led by Duncan Raban- Just Say Hello.

Duncan started his plans to get people talking to one another in the community as a bid to put an end to loneliness.

The #justsayhello movement is growing in popularity, with over 70k followers on Facebook, Duncan now creates content on YouTube to inspire more people to make conversation with the people in the real world.

Here’s what Duncan says:

“I am developing a kindness movement called #justsayhello to inspire us all to say hello with a smile and a compliment and I hope to begin to end loneliness and promote kindness and compassion and empathy for others”

 

You can view Duncan Raban’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8kwOuv5UCkqjJmAIYQxAQg

You can also reach his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/justsayhellotoday/

Improving mental health begins with curing loneliness

 

Many would assume loneliness comes from being alone, but this is not necessarily true. You can feel lonely even in the presence of others as there is a perceived sense of alienation, detachment and isolation which has a detrimental effect on mental health.

That’s why our partners Chasing the Stigma, have developed the Hub of Hope– a national mental health database which brings together mental health organisations and charities from across the nation together in one place. It’s especially important today to chase away the stigma around discussing mental health and even loneliness.

While working with Chasing the Stigma, together we have identified a two-stage process to overcome mental health issues.

 

Stage 1: Understand yourself. This could be through a daily diary to help recognise your emotions and feelings. 

Here at Reliving, we have developed a daily diary which promotes mindfulness and daily habits to achieving improved mental health.

By working alongside Cherish-De (the Digital Economy Research Centre at Swansea University), we have structured the Reliving app, with mental health improvement built into its features.

 

Stage 2: Speak with family, friends or a support network. 

Talking to others will make you feel better. For any advice and support please get in touch with the Hub of Hope. Being part of a support network will reduce the loneliness that is often felt when living with mental health issues.

 

What the Government is doing to reduce loneliness

In 2018 the UK government launched the world’s first government loneliness strategy, ‘A Connected Society: A strategy for tackling loneliness – laying the foundations for change’. The aim of this national movement is to ‘significantly reduce the number of lonely people over the next ten years. Doing so will require long-term action from government, business and civil society and a change in public attitudes.’

 

Our government recognises their part in helping to relieve society of loneliness and have been working over the past 2 years to deliver on its 60 commitments. It’s achieving this in three ways:

  1. “reducing stigma by building the national conversation on loneliness, so that people feel able to talk about loneliness and reach out for help
  2. driving a lasting shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered in government policy-making, both so that government action has a direct impact, but more importantly to support and amplify the impact of civil society organisations who are connecting people in their communities
  3. playing our part in improving the evidence base on loneliness, making a compelling case for action, and ensuring everyone has the information they need to make informed decisions on what to do to tackle loneliness”

Combating loneliness in children

We are pleased to see the government’s efforts in the fight against loneliness in children. As of September 2020, primary and secondary school children will be taught about loneliness through new subjects of relationships education, relationships and sex education and health education.

 

If you’re ever feeling lonely, please reach out and talk with someone. If you’re not sure who you can talk to, reach out to the Hub of Hope.