The Lonely

The epidemic of loneliness

Loneliness is an urgent and growing issue for our society.

The UK Government estimates that 9 million people are ‘lonely’. And a recent independent survey found more than half of those who are lonely have never spoken about how they feel.

More than that, Age UK, says half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, with one in 10 aged 65 or over saying they always, or often, feel lonely.

Other research discovered almost 1 in 5 older people see friends, family and neighbours less than once a week, while 1 in 10 go for a month before such contact.

This offers those who are ‘retired and active’ a wonderful opportunity to respond.

  • Why are so many people lonely?

    How is it there are so many Eleanor Rigbys – likely to be ‘buried along with their name and nobody came’. Where, as the Beatles asked, do they all come from? There are many reasons –

    The loss of a spouse or partner: This is often the primary cause of someone being lonely. Conversation may not always have flowed but someone else was in the house. Now it’s all gone very quiet other than the TV.

    The loss of friends and family: As people grow older, friends and relatives are no longer there. Family members may be living a long way away.

    The lack of neighbourliness: Dropping in on those ‘next door’ or a chat over the fence is not what it used to be, especially when both partners are out to work all day.

    Loss of mobility: Being no longer able to drive or well enough to use public transport means everything has to depend on visitors.

  • The effects of loneliness

    There is much more to loneliness that just being alone.

    Feelings of isolation are real. Fears can build up – that there’s something wrong with them. That they no longer matter, are second rate – and nobody wants to know you.

    All the things they once shared with others become internalised – they can’t even have a good argument.

    Fear and vulnerability are constant companions. ‘What would I do if I fell over and couldn’t get up?’ ‘Who can get I ask about paying my utility bill with all its different tariffs’.

    Even if their health permits going out, many lonely people just ‘stay indoors’. The world out there is threatening and they have lost the habit of talking to people.

    Health can also become an issue. Every ache or twinge may be a warning of something much worse.

    Even wealth does not prevent loneliness. You can be very lonely in a mansion, remembering how, at one time, the place buzzed with noise and laughter.

    Some are lonely through broken relationships with family members and have to carry that pain.

  • Where to find lonely people

    There are several ways to dig out those who are lonely and need a regular caring and friendly visitor.

    You could –

    • Seek out a lonely person in your street or nearby
    • Talk to your church leaders about elderly church members in need of visitors
    • Contact nearby retirement homes to ask if there are those who seldom have visitors
    • Contact your local services to see if there are needs you could meet
    • Work with others to offer support to your local medical services to give them extra capacity
    • Contact agencies like Age Concern and offer to visit those known to them

    If every ‘retired and active’ person found just one lonely person to visit occasionally, the love of Christ could be shared with many who are feeling that life has lost a lot of its meaning.

  • How to become a visitor and befriender

    Whether you are responding as an individual to the needs of one lonely person, or as part of a church initiative, there are things to keep in mind.

    • Initial approaches may be tense and difficult. Relationships take time to develop trust and openness.
    • The person you are visiting may be depressed as this can result from a lack of human contact is.
    • No two elderly people are the same. Some may find conversation difficult. Others could talk for England.
    • If they are expecting a visit, make sure you turn up.
    • Don’t expect them to remember every detail of your last conversation – or even your name.
    • Take your grandchildren with you. A recent TV documentary revealed the benefit of elderly people being with children regularly.
    • Be careful what you offer. An occasional cake is fine but don’t be over-lavish and so create wrong expectations.

    If you set up, or are part of, a befriending group use the resources of the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service.

Do you have an experience of visiting someone who is lonely – or advice to share? Please join our Facebook community and share. You can also Sign Up to our blog.

The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife