For Loneliness Awareness Week (15-19th June), we’re opening the discussion on loneliness. It’s something that will affect most of us at some point during our lifetime, and can be as bad for our health as smoking. But we can all do something to change that.
By speaking openly about the impact loneliness has on our physical health and wellbeing, we aim to create a culture where talking about feelings of isolation and loneliness becomes second nature. A culture where we can easily recognise feelings of loneliness, and there’s no shame or judgement attached to those emotions when discussing them openly.
Here we share four of the most poignant things we’ve learned about loneliness, over more than 20 years in social prescribing and befriending services.
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate
One of the largest lessons to come out of the global COVID-19 pandemic is that feelings of extreme isolation are possible for anyone – even those who are accustomed to having a strong support network under usual circumstances.
Whether you’re over 60 or under 25 (or any age in between), live alone or with others, or are even an extrovert or an introvert, our unique traits and circumstances do not always shield us from loneliness; anyone can feel it, at any time.
Some will feel loneliness differently – and sometimes more strongly – than others
Feelings of social isolation and loneliness wreak havoc on health and wellbeing, with chronically lonely people having higher blood pressure, higher vulnerability to infection, and even a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But loneliness can also affect some groups very differently, and studies show those in marginalised communities can be more susceptible to loneliness due to societal issues and pressures. For example, LGBTQ people often have diminished support networks, while international migrants and people with aural/verbal disabilities also routinely experience significant barriers to inclusion.
Feelings of loneliness are perfectly valid – however they materialise
As something that doesn’t discriminate, loneliness can also affect people unexpectedly – even sporadically – or it can be chronic. Sometimes, it comes slowly over time. Sometimes it’s very sudden. For some, it can be difficult to pinpoint its exact triggers, while for others those triggers might be glaringly obvious. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to feeling lonely, and that doesn’t ever make any experience more valid than another.
The good news: We can fix loneliness
Wherever you live, there are organisations that can help you feel more connected. It might be worth looking out for social prescribing services in your area (or, in some places, community referral). Social Prescribing helps people find the people and places they need to feel healthier and happier. These can involve a variety of activities provided by the non-profit and community sector, such as befriending, arts, gardening, cookery and much more.
By providing people with social prescribing services, these organisations in the non-profit sector support people to take control of their own health – which can otherwise be greatly impacted by social, economic and environmental factors.
Human connection is powerful, and lies at the core of everything we do at Together Co. Here in Brighton and Hove, our befriending and social prescribing services support hundreds of local people. Both our members and volunteers have reported an increase to their wellbeing since joining us, and we’ve always room for more. Fancy a chat? Get in touch here.
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© 2019 Together Collective a Company Limited by Guarantee registered in England and Wales: Company No. 03895574, whose registered office is Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton BN1 1YD. Together Collective is a registered charity: Charity No. 1083390