The Loneliness Warning – What needs to be done

07 July

1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem each year, but the stigma still remains attached to mental illnesses. Whilst we know this not to be true, many feel that because mental illnesses don’t hold any physical injuries or scars, where is the real illness? It’s drummed into us since we are little that injuries and illnesses come with physical signs.

Loneliness is one such illness, which whilst it bears no physical evidence of its presence it can be hard to determine who is lonely, and who is not. Where are the physical signs that loneliness is taking its toll on someone? And how can loneliness be cured? Isn’t it just a case of spending more time with someone and hoping they soon feel better? Whilst to a degree this is true, support is also needed from governing bodies to help put out the loneliness fire.

Recent statistics point out that over one million over 65s are suffering from loneliness, that’s over 10% of the elderly in the UK. A high number by any standards and a figure that only seems to rise.

On a personal level loneliness has a number of health impacts, from raising blood pressure and lowering immunity, it also affects sleep and increases cortisol which is the stress inducing hormone. It can cause feelings of worthlessness and rejection, which can both contribute to the cycle of loneliness. Alongside feelings of anger, emptiness and resentment, loneliness lies at the core, leading to a trigger of emotions and opening up vulnerability to other illnesses.

When it comes to community and the impact loneliness has on healthcare resources, three-quarters of GPs claim they see between 1 and 5 lonely people a day, with an increase in the number of lonely patients visiting GPs rising alongside. Not to mention the emotional stress this has on those surrounding the loneliness sufferer.

Not only does being lonely affect physical and mental health, it has also been linked to increasing premature death by 30% and an increase in the chance of developing dementia. So, what will it take for the loneliness problem to be solved? Where does the solution lie and at whose door and budget will it fall at?

There are times when all of us will feel lonely at some point in our lives, but it’s pinpointing it that can be the hard part. When does lonely go from being a fleeting thought, to something that inhibits us from carrying out our daily tasks and feeling ourselves? This too is the dilemma which faces the diagnosis of loneliness, but there are small steps that can be taken to help keep loneliness at bay.

Identify Loneliness Triggers
Often, loneliness is trigged by another factor. So steps need to be taken to identify the trigger in each individual, and an action plan put in place to stop further deterioration. Once you find the missing piece of the puzzle, you can begin to put it back together again and look at how loneliness was affecting a person beforehand.

Get Out the House
Around 200,000 older people don’t leave their home, with only 6% leaving their house once a week, and with over half of those over 75 years old living alone it can be easier to understand why loneliness occurs so much in the elderly. Getting out the house, even if it’s just for a walk, to the shops or for a coffee can help to provide a little interaction on a day to day basis that can help to combat feelings of loneliness.

Awareness Groups
The plight of loneliness hasn’t crept up overnight, and whilst it’s receiving more attention year on year, awareness groups which support those who are suffering from loneliness are well established. Charities such as Mind are run by locals people in your area, and can help to provide support during your time of need.

Contact the Elderly was created to help those who are lonely in old age, through arranging monthly tea parties across the UK, they provided a point of contact for the elderly and help them to establish relationships with others who are in the same situation.

Loneliness shouldn’t be deemed as an inevitable when we age, and it’s going to take action from all sides to help cure the loneliness epidemic.

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