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The 10th to the 16th of June marks Loneliness Awareness week. Loneliness Awareness week began in 2017 and is led by the Marmalade Trust, aiming to raise as much awareness as possible around what can often be seen as a taboo subject for many.

The Office for National Statistics data analysis carried out between January 2020 and March 2023 through the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OLS) revealed that 3.6 million people consider themselves lonely or chronically lonely in the UK, however given that we are now in 2024, it is thought that the figure could be closer to 4.4 million.

Presently, the analyses indicates that the younger generation are the loneliest group (16 -29-year-olds). This age group is twice as likely to be chronically lonely than the over 70s. However, there are a significant proportion of older people who are chronically lonely, often triggered by a bereavement, changes to health or a disability. Interestingly, women were shown to be more affected by loneliness then men, while those with a physical or mental health condition were three times more likely to be lonely.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in November 2019 saw a sharp rise in loneliness across the UK and the world, separating families, friends, cultures and communities. Hiding us away, keeping safe distances but ultimately isolating us from the importance of regular social interactions with others, stunting our human connections, making us wary and anxious when integrating back into society. In short, the pandemic has influenced the growth in loneliness not only during the outbreak but also the years following.

It is a normal part of life’s journey that at some point we will all inevitably experience a form of loneliness. It will feel different to everyone depending upon the circumstances and reasons as to why we feel this emotion. Loneliness may come to us for the following reasons:

  • Changes in financial circumstances that prevents us from socialising or going out
  • We may relocate to a new area
  • A shift in family dynamics
  • Changes to a friendship or friendships where we have drifted apart or outgrown a relationship
  • A marriage, partnership concluding or being in a relationship but feeling disconnected from that person
  • Having a baby
  • Bereavement
  • Leaving work or retiring
  • Changes to health/illness/disability circumstances

Loneliness is a natural, completely normal human emotion and as the Marmalade Trust explains simply:

“We’re biologically wired for social contact, and loneliness is our signal that we need more. A helpful definition: Loneliness is a perceived mismatch between the quality or quantity of social connections that a person has and what they would like to have”.
The Marmalade trust, 2013, accessed 20/05/2024

Although feeling lonely is a normal reaction to a humans need for more social contact, it can be hard to admit to oneself and others around you. Studies have shown that when we experience loneliness, we can react in several ways, depending on our unique set of circumstances. For example, we may recognise our loneliness and consciously seek help and find new ways of socialising. We may confide in a loved one or close friend. Or we may retreat into ourselves, moving further away from social situations, becoming more isolated, beginning a cycle that is hard to break.

Our response to feeling lonely can be both mental and physical. Chronic loneliness has been linked to depression and anxiety, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

However, for most of us loneliness will come and go throughout our lives, it will not be a fixed state that we dwell in, rather a moment or period where we need to readdress our social connections. When and if we have a period of loneliness, it is useful to know that it may affect us in the following ways and again it is important to stress that loneliness is a normal feeling and emotion, and a fact of life:

  • We may feel embarrassed or feel there is something wrong with us, there is not!
  • We may feel less enthusiastic about being out and about
  • Our diet may be affected, we may make poor food choices
  • We may rely on alcohol to deal with our feelings
  • Our quality of sleep may be affected
  • We may feel anxious

It is also important to state that we may feel none of the above too!

Looking forward, how can we move out of loneliness?

Firstly, it is important to admit to yourself that you are experiencing this emotion for a reason and that’s ok, then we can try and identify where our social mismatch is and find ways to close the gap. Here are some examples and what we could potentially do to help ourselves.

Workplace loneliness

If we are lonely in the workplace, we could talk to someone we trust and let them know how we are feeling? This could be a friend out of work, a colleague or your manager. They may be able to address your concerns and find ways to involve you gently into work social situations or simply support you more daily until you are feeling more confident in your surroundings.

Relocation

If we have relocated to a new area, even if we have moved as a family or with a partner, it can be a big step to go out and make new social connections. However, we need different people in our lives to fulfil our different social needs, one person cannot do it all. So, although stepping outside of our comfort zone to do this is frightening, it will be hugely beneficial for us long term. We could do the following:

  • Continue with a hobby in the new area by researching what is on locally
  • Join a local class or group
  • Volunteer our time to a charity if we are not working or retired
  • Make connections with your new neighbours if you feel comfortable
  • If you have moved with a child or had a baby, join the local parent baby/toddler groups
  • Visit the local library to find out what is on locally or enquire online on local Facebook groups

Bereavement, loss, change in home circumstances

Feeling lonely because you have lost a loved one or they have moved into care can be incredibly emotionally challenging, it is a big life changing event. It is important when you are ready to let family, friends or those around you know just how you are feeling. They can take steps to ensure that you are not alone. This could be as simple as making sure someone is visiting you frequently or you are getting out to see others if you are able too.

If family live away from you a companionship service can assist by arranging times to visit you and ensure that you are able to get back on your feet and continue to live your life fully with your social needs met. This could be just going out for coffee, shopping, taking you to visit a friend or a group, or visiting your loved one in their care setting. Whatever the need, a companionship service will be able to listen to your requirements and put in place the appropriate support to ensure you continue to have ownership over your daily life choices and live it to the full.

What to do if you think someone is lonely?

If you have concerns that you think someone you know is lonely, try checking in with them and asking if everything is ok? They will then have the floor to talk about anything that is bothering them and will feel supported and listened too. You could also check in with their loved ones or friends and see if they have noticed any changes or have concerns too. You can then take gentle steps to help that person in a way that is acceptable to them and encourage others too if that is appropriate.

There are many organisations that you can go to for help if you are feeling lonely, they do some wonderful work and their campaigns to bring loneliness to the forefront are helping to change societies perspective on what loneliness is, how it should be addressed and helping to the remove the stigma that has long been associated with it.

In a world where the bonds of community and connection can often feel frayed, The Bespoke Life emerges as a beacon of hope for those grappling with loneliness. Our service, offering companions tailored to individual needs, provides a profound source of emotional support and human connection. By fostering consistent interaction, a sense of purpose, and even physical activity, our companionship service can transform the lives of the lonely, filling their days with warmth, engagement, and a renewed sense of belonging. In embracing such a service, we take a compassionate step towards a future where no one must face the challenges of isolation alone.

Some useful links:
www.marmaladetrust.org
www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/lifes-challenges/loneliness
www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/feeling-lonely
www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-having-difficult-time/signs-you-may-be-struggling-cope
www.lonelinessawarenessweek.org

References
The Marmalade trust, 2013, www.marmaladetrust.org, accessed 20/05/2024
The Marmalade Trust
www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/wp-content/uploads/The-State-of-Loneliness-2023-ONS-data-on-loneliness-in-Britain.pdf
www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/facts-and-statistics