Lonely this Christmas

Christmas is a time when many of us get together with friends and family. We eat food, watch repeats on TV and give each other gifts. It might not always be wonderful but generally we spend the day with people who care about us.

For some people however, Christmas is not fun, festive and full of love. They face spending what should be a happy time of the year alone. I was particularly struck by the story of James Gray, 85 who after spending a decade of Christmas days alone decided to put an advert in the paper asking for someone to share Christmas dinner with. This was picked up by the press and now James is receiving cards and has lots of offers for Christmas.

James is not alone in his situation. Age UK estimates that almost half a million over 65 year olds, will spend Christmas alone.  Loneliness is not just something that affects older people; it can hit anyone at any time during their lives and at Christmas the horrible feelings of loneliness can reach a peak.

It’s awful to think of people feeling this way but we’re not powerless. We can do something about it. We know that just having another person call or pop in can make a very real difference to someone who is feeling lonely. This Christmas, if you think someone you know might be feeling lonely then pick up the phone, take them some mince pies or even invite them to join you for Christmas dinner.  It could be the greatest gift you give this year.

Angela Cairns
Chief Executive

Online peer support for people experiencing loneliness this Christmas

This winter, the idea that hundreds of thousands of people, particularly the elderly will be affected by loneliness is getting a lot of media coverage. Rightly so; this is an issue that isn’t going away, nor will it disappear when we pack up the Christmas decorations and get back to day to day life. Loneliness can affect people at any age and any time and we need solutions throughout the year.

We are regularly asked for help by people under the age of 60. Requests come from those who are chronically lonely. They don’t have someone to talk to in the middle of the night, nor do they fall into a group for which there is an obvious form of support. They are not old or ill. They are simply lonely and unable to find the help they are seeking.

One of the things we have learnt through years supporting people out of loneliness is that human contact makes a real difference to those struggling to feel part of the world. Peer support, or people helping each other is one of the most effective means of enabling meaningful connections to be made between individuals and groups.

This week we are launching The Loneliness Forum, an online discussion group for adults at risk of, or experiencing loneliness to come together, share experiences and find ways of supporting each other. The Forum, a safe space for anyone 18+ will be moderated by friendly Community Guides who are there to make everyone feel welcome.

Christmas and New Year is a time when people feel lonelier and so we are launching this forum this month. If you are feeling lonely over the holidays, whether you are on your own or with family and friends, drop by the forum, say hello and share with like minded people.

Join the Loneliness Forum here.

Festive fun and tips to combat loneliness this Christmas

Community Network's Advent Calendar
 

 

 

 

 

It’s December, it’s winter and many of us are thinking of buying presents, going out with friends and spending time with our families over the Christmas holidays. For many this is really difficult period. We are bombarded with images of how life should be, that we should all be laughing, happy and part of a tight knit family. This only makes things worse if you are feeling lonely and disconnected.

This month we have put together an online Advent Calendar with tips for connecting this Christmas, some festive singing and even a surprise song from a member of the team!

Our lovely advent calendar can be found here.

Don’t forget to pop back each day and open another door.

Why I’m a Trustee of Community Network

Photo of Stephen Heard, Chair of TrusteesI first became interested in Community Network as a fairly new recruit to the NHS when I attended one of many exhibitions and conferences in a quest for knowledge to help me in my new role. The then Chief Executive of Community Network (Pat Fitzsimmons) was hosting one of those small side meetings usually attended by one man and his dog or by people who are in the wrong room or persuaded by the event organisers to go and fill the room. We have all been there.

 

Pat’s session did attract me; I hasten to add, because she was talking about isolation and loneliness in elderly people. This struck a chord with me as my elderly mum was living in Devon and I was in Norfolk, and although I spoke to her every week I knew that she was lonely, which was bizarre as my five siblings and their families lived within 30 minutes of her. However they all had busy lives and Mum didn’t want to worry them; you know the story.

Would I have been a frequent visitor if I had lived that close? I like to think so but we all have busy lives and I didn’t want to worry Mum or be a nuisance; you know the story.

Anyway back to Pat and her talk about Community Network and the work they were doing with isolated and lonely older people, forming telephone groups. Some members of these groups frequently turned up at their local GP surgery or even presented at the local A&E from time to time with no real evidence of any physical illness and often called “frequent flyers” or the “worried well” in the NHS; they just wanted to talk to someone face to face and have that very basic, instinctive feeling of being alive and part of the human race.

You probably know someone just like this. It may even be your own Mum or relative. They don’t have to be elderly to feel alone and lacking that human interaction; what’s your child doing on that PC all night? Is it the appropriate interaction?

It struck me whilst Pat was talking, that the NHS needed to help these “frequent flyers” and I could see an opportunity to try and encourage NHS commissioners (still the PCT back then) to buy this service for these patients. I was also considering the carbon savings that could be accrued without these unnecessary trips to the local surgery and to A&E let alone the savings in NHS tariff charges (did you know that every GP attendance costs the NHS £25 and every hospital appointment costs the NHS £104) as lonely, isolated people tend to visit the local GP 19% more than the average patient.

At the end of Pat’s talk I joined the queue of people who wanted to ask her questions but were too shy to do so in open forum; why do we all do this? Pat looked at me rather quizzically when I explained my thoughts, as she had never really considered the NHS as her main message was aimed at the local authorities and their social services. Due to present at Islington Town Hall the following week, Pat asked me if I would join her to make the case for the NHS, which I agreed to do. Were we early adopters of the current health and social care integration?

As a result of this I was asked to consider becoming a Trustee and duly pitched up at my interview with the then Chair and his deputy. They kindly offered me a berth on the Board of Community Network and some four years later here I am as the Chair, having recruited an entirely new Board of Trustees, recruited a new Chief Executive, relocated the Head Office and completed redesigned the business model. I hadn’t intended to achieve all of these things however for those who know me know that I do not do things by half and also take on any task full on.

Being a Trustee has taught me loads of new skills and has enabled me to give something back and hopefully helped ensure that other people’s Mums and relatives are maybe not as lonely as mine and thousands of others like her. Mum died two years ago but she was not isolated at the end. I would recommend being a Trustee to anyone who has a few hours to spare a month and I cannot envisage not ever doing this in one way or another.

Stephen Heard, Chair of Trustees
Community Network

Stephen Heard Management Ltd

What can we do about loneliness?

Loneliness is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. It can be fleeting and easy to shake off but for far too many people, loneliness becomes part of everyday life.

There is no magic wand to wave when feeling lonely but there are things you can try to help you feel more connected to others.

Here are some ideas that have worked for other people. We’d also love to hear from you about what has helped you when you are feeling lonely.

You are not alone in feeling lonely

We don’t talk much about loneliness but it is experienced by many people of all ages everyday. Figures tend to focus on older people with 1 in 10 feeling lonely all or most of the time but loneliness can come at anytime during life and be triggered by lots of different things. It can be difficult to remember that other people feel the way you do and many people who have felt lonely in the past will be able to understand how you are feeling.

Take smalls steps

If you are feeling very lonely it might feel difficult to expand your circle of friends. Start with people you are closest to such as family or old friends. Having a chat on the phone, meeting for coffee or just exchanging some messages online can make a big difference.

Saying hello

We live in an increasingly busy world where often we don’t have time to connect with those around us. Simple things like saying hello to neighbours, talking to people in shops, delivery people or chatting to acquaintances can help to give you a sense of others around you. For example, someone we spoke to lately said that just talking to people in queue for the doctors’ surgery had helped them to feel a sense of belonging.

Connecting with new people

Loneliness is a tricky thing. Sometimes we can be surround by others and still feel very lonely. Often this is because we feel disconnected from those around us. Meeting new people can help you to overcome feelings of loneliness. This may seem big and scary so start off by thinking about the things that you like to do, the values you hold and the things you like to speak about. For example, if you have an interest in local history or singing, politics etc. find out what’s available in your area. Meet up groups are also a great way to find people with similar interests who welcome new members.

Helping others

When you are at a low ebb helping others might be furthest from your mind but there’s a lot of research that shows that it can help to increase your confidence and make you feel valued again. Volunteering is a fantastic way of meeting new people and you can choose how much of your time to give.

Connecting online

The Internet can, for many be a source of staying in touch and meeting new people. There are lots of different social networking sites connecting up people and forums where you can share experiences, opinions and talk online to others about things that matter to you.

Whilst the Internet can be really helpful for lots of people, please remember to stay safe online. If you are on a public forum don’t give your personal details to anyone and if feel something is unsafe then look on the website for an email address to report it to. Most social networks and forums have someone you can raise concerns with.

Telephone Communities

For people who don’t have access to the Internet or choose not to connect with people online, Community Network’s Telephone Communities are a good way to safely talk to others. We using teleconferencing technology to let people chat together in a group telephone call. All group members need is access to a telephone, landline or mobile and there is always a trained facilitator on hand to make it easy for everyone to talk together on the phone.

Enjoying spending time alone

If you are someone who is used to having lots of people around you and are suddenly spending a lot of time alone this may lead to you feeling lonely. There can be lots of positive things about spending time on your own. It can allow you to pursue hobbies or do things you’ve always fancied and give you time to enjoy things you might otherwise not get a chance to do.

Peer support

Often people experience loneliness and feel alienated from others because of something that is happening in their lives such as managing a physical or mental health condition. There are many groups who about people in such circumstances helping each other. This is sometimes called peer support.

Other sources of help

Sometimes feeling lonely can cause you to become depressed. Being depressed can also make you feel lonely. If you are feeling depressed it is a good idea to visit your GP who can talk through what you are experiencing and the best way forward.

If you are experiencing distress, despair, feel you are not coping or having suicidal thoughts you can contact Samaritans on 08457 909090 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org

Useful Links

Mind, the mental health charity www.mind.org.uk

Elefriends, supportive online community from Mind www.elefriends.org.uk

Samaritans www.samaritans.org

Childline, support for children & young people www.childline.org.uk

The Silver Line Helpline, for older people www.thesilverline.org.uk

Do-it, volunteering opportunities www.do-it.org.uk

Meet up, website advertising events and activities for like minded people www.meetup.com