“What does it feel like to be lonely? I can tell you exactly, it’s like being in a bubble and you want to get out but you just can’t, you try to and you can’t do it, you just can’t get out”
Participant from the Coop and Red Cross Trapped in a Bubble Report (2016)
The Loneliness Commission
Evidence from charities such as Age UK, Action for children, The Royal Voluntary service and many others show that over nine million people in the UK are always or often lonely. Two-thirds of those said they wouldn’t admit the fact that they were lonely in public. What was also clear from the research was that loneliness was not confined to the elderly; it spans across all ages.
A new commission on loneliness initiated by the late MP Jo Cox was launched in January and will work across political parties with leading charities to put forward its recommendations in December this year.
What does loneliness feel like?
Loneliness is complex. It’s not the same as being alone. People do choose to be alone and live perfectly happily without a great deal of contact with others. In contrast, you may see lots of people, or be in a family and/or a relationship but still, feel lonely. Lonely people can be hard to help as often they don’t want to admit they are lonely and need help.
‘Loneliness is not feeling part of the world. You might be surrounded by loads of people but…. You are (still) lonely’ Mind
This makes sense, doesn’t it? You can feel lonely lying in bed with a partner. You can feel lonely at school, college or university. You can feel lonely in the workplace or on a night out with friends. You can feel lonely at home with a new baby or toddler. I remember asking my mum a couple of years or so after the death of my dad if she was lonely. She replied that yes, she was alone, but she didn’t feel lonely. I’m not sure if she was really telling me the full story as she had stopped going out in the evenings as returning to an empty house without my dad there at home to greet her was just too painful for her.
Why are we so lonely?
Our society has changed. We move away from our support networks for college, university, training or work. We’re no longer surrounded by our relatives. A quarter of parents have reported feeling often or always lonely. People move around more and relocate to maintain their jobs. We get divorced, or as we live longer we lose the companionship of our partner through bereavement. The research reported at the end of 2016 by the Red Cross found 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or family member for a month. There is also the isolation of living with mental health problems or disability. One in four disabled people feels lonely on a typical day according to the research.
The impact of loneliness.
Loneliness is usually a transient state but for some people, the loneliness doesn’t go away; they fail to get themselves out of this state of loneliness and gradually become more and more isolated. It can become a downward spiral as the loneliness can lead to self -isolation so that the person appears to others that they do not wish to form connections, which then, of course, deepens the feelings of loneliness even more.
Small Acts of Kindness.
Getting help from someone face-to-face when you are experiencing loneliness has been shown to be the most preferred option by those who were surveyed in the report. This could be from a charity, a local group or someone like myself who is a counsellor. For those who want to make a difference then it’s the ‘small gestures’ or those little acts of kindness that can often make the most difference such as saying hello and checking on neighbours and asking family and friends how they are.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it! A strong recommendation from the report is to seize the momentum of these small acts so that we can begin to make a big difference to communities.