Loneliness is not just for Christmas
As Christmas nears, we find our diaries full of time to be spent with family, with friends, with work colleagues. No doubt many of us will also be equally looking forward to the quieter moments in between; to kick back, to switch off. With everything in life, contrast is a lovely thing. Experiencing the opposite of two things in close succession is often most rewarding, it sharpens the pleasure of each.
At this time of year, we are also often reminded of people in less fortunate situations. And this includes being lonely - and more specifically being chronically lonely. We all know that feeling part of something, having a purpose and connecting with other people on a regular basis, promotes positive mental health and physical wellbeing.
I did a little research on this and was surprised to see quite how many people may experience this, and in different ways. If you like a few stats then these are worth knowing:
A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely.
Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. (Valtorta et al, 2016) (James et al, 2011) (Cacioppo et al, 2006)
Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
A number of bodies and organisations have fortunately started to promote the cause over the past years, such as the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission.
I like what Campaign to End Loneliness are up to. This particular campaign focuses most on older people, who represent a significant proportion of people experiencing such situations. I thought this video they made to be quite powerful.
But whilst we perhaps think of lonely older people more often - chronic loneliness can affect people of all ages and across all walks of society. Take for example men. Aligned with the rise in the openness around mental health challenges for men, so it becomes more evident that loneliness and the inability to talk about issues, even within family settings, can be very damaging. Indeed, in Japan, the issue is so extreme that there are businesses dedicated to clearing up after people who have died that are so lonely, no-one discovers they have been deceased for several months - only when the rent or a bill has become unpaid for too long does anyone sit up and take notice. What a way to end. Take a further look at this article.
And then there are others, such as those that are homeless. We often see and hear about this more at Christmas. And particularly rough sleeping, which is visible as shoppers scurry by in our towns and cities often buying rather meaningless gifts that are neither good for the recipient, for their own bank balance, or the environment; but that’s another story!
Stories is proud and excited to be working with the homeless charity St Mungo’s in 2020 to help them further enhance their offer to homeless people - in particular giving their customers a better sense of ‘home’. Watch this space.
So my last point is perhaps a no-brainer. But something we are not very good at. The more meaningful encounters and conversations we call all have with people throughout the year, the better off we will all be.
Loneliness is not just for Christmas.