What helps loneliness for people in the UK at Christmas?

It's a month until Christmas and many associate it with a happy, family time. Lights twinkle, we gather together with loved ones and enjoy time together away from the cold and dark outdoors. However, what happens if you feel lonely at Christmas and don’t have those close relationships with family or friends? What can help loneliness at Christmas time? 

According to the Guardian , Dave Berry notes that in 2017, a pub in Wimbledon, South London, ‘The Alexandra’ offered to host a free Christmas dinner and festive drink, ‘for anybody who’s alone and lonely. They will be welcomed with open arms. ‘. The post was put on their Twitter feed and received some incredibly kind comments with the community donating food and time to help with the project. The dinner was a success and is happening this year too, with the pub saying,

We do a FREE Christmas day dinner every year for folks alone- last year we had 62 and we are aiming for over 100 this time.’
This is most definitely to be applauded and is just one place in the country that offers this. Yet, it is still worrying that we live in a country filled with millions of people and still, loneliness pervades our society.

Indeed, loneliness can affect the elderly as many know, but it can also really affect young people too, especially Millennials and their mental health.
So what else can be done to tackle loneliness at Christmas here in the UK?

Millennials and Mental Health

Research in 2016 by the mental health charity Mind, found that ‘1 in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 who took part in a recent survey said that they have no one to spend Christmas with, compared with one in 20 older people. ’ 

Kashmira Gander writing in the Independent, notes that a lot of Millennials struggle with the need to be constantly happy, busy and surrounded by people. There are visions fed to us from the media and our social media feeds of a perfect Christmas and sometimes that isn’t the case.

Depression and anxiety often increases around Christmas time, when people reflect that they may not have loved ones to share this time with- they may have ended a relationship or suffered a bereavement. Seasonal depression, the ‘winter blues’ due to lack of light is also rife which doesn’t help peoples mental health.
The survey by Mind also looked at the burden of financial stress and found that Millennials are more likely to have lower paid jobs which can contribute to this and the need to buy gifts to keep up with friends.

Young people also have more access to social media where they may compare their own Christmas experience to those of others online, which are often seen as ‘perfect’, but far from the reality. This can contribute to the feelings of loneliness and worsen depression and anxiety. Sometimes, loneliness can escalate to crisis point and become more serious mental illness.

So what can help mental health and loneliness?

The Samaritans have a free helpline for anyone struggling which can be called at 116 123 (in the UK) 24 hours a day,  if you need someone to listen non judgementally.

Alternatively, if you are concerned about your own or others mental health, then call your GP to arrange an urgent appointment. They can then refer you to a NHS psychiatrist, although there may be waiting lists.

If you are at crisis point, phone your doctor or go to A and E if you cannot access your own crisis team at your local mental health hospital.
If you are feeling alone, it is best to reach out to people you trust or to call the Samaritans helpline. There may also be some free events like the one above that you can attend if you feel able. Make sure you access support on and offline and know although it feels terrible, you are never truly alone.

If you are feeling suicidal or the urge to self harm, please access medical professionals to help you, and don’t struggle alone.
Its also important to keep yourself feeling physically healthy and well. Check out this list of useful tips here to help you if you are feeling alone:  https://issuesiface.com/magazine/loneliness-at-christmas

Elderly and Loneliness

It is widely acknowledged that the elderly often feel more lonely than others, due to their time of life, retirement and sometimes death of a long term spouse. Each year, the charity Age UK conduct research and promote campaigns for Christmas, so that people remember their elderly family, friends and neighbours.

In 2017, their research found that, 928,000  older people feel lonelier at Christmas time, two fifths of whom had been widowed.  As a result, they released last years Christmas campaign with a film of a lonely widower called ‘Just Another Day’, with the theme being that Christmas wasn’t special- it just felt as lonely as any other day.
Millions of people according to the charity, go days without contact from others. Age UK launched its ‘No one should have No one campaign’ , to encourage people to donate to them to tackle the scourge of loneliness and help the UK over 65s.    

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, commented: 'Chronic loneliness ..can also have a devastating impact on an older person's mental and physical health. That's why at Age UK we are committed to being here year round for older people’

Age UK can help if you are over 65 and need support at Christmas time around loneliness.

You can call their advice line on 0800 169 6565 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/no-one

What can help elderly people at Christmas time?

- Visit your elderly relatives and take food to them, or give them a phone call to wish them a Merry Christmas

- If you feel able, take them out on a day trip or to your home for a meal

- If they are struggling with depression or anxiety, help them to book a doctors appointment and go with them to their GP/ psychiatrist if able.

-Make sure to look out for lonely neighbours and help them to get support via helplines like Age UK

Check out the NHS Get Well this Winter Campaign to help the elderly stay well:  

Advice includes:

  • Get a flu vaccination
  • Heat your home to at least 18 degrees C (65f), if you can
  • Seek immediate advice and help from a pharmacist as soon as you feel unwell,  before it gets too serious
  • Keep an eye on elderly or frail friends, neighbours and relatives
  • Pick up repeat prescriptions so you have enough while pharmacies/surgeries are closed
  • Make sure you have enough food and medicine in the cupboards
  • Take your prescribed medicines as directed

As Melvyn Kohler at Age UK comments, ‘ Loneliness is a serious health hazard, and is closely linked to depression, self-neglect and mental illness. The cold winter months are a particularly difficult time for older people and Britain’s appalling record on ‘excess winter deaths’ is a national disgrace.’

Tackling loneliness at Christmas in the UK

The Campaign Against loneliness states that 9 million people say they are always or often lonely, according to research by the British Red Cross and Co op in 2016. That is one fifth of the UK population- but there may be more!

The campaign also states that not only can loneliness be harmful to our mental health, but also our physical health too- life expectancy, blood pressure and a whole host of issues.

Loneliness seems to affect every age group although there are people in each group who are vulnerable to poor physical and emotional health due to it.

Its important that we remember that not everyone will have a happy Christmas experience and to think of others on this day. For example, who could you invite to your lunch who may not have family? How can you help your elderly friend grieving the loss of their spouse at this time?Can you donate to Age UK to help them tackle loneliness in the elderly?
The winter is a time where people often struggle with their mental health and with feelings of loneliness. At times of festivities, its vital to include those who won’t be invited to celebrate and like many charities do, to provide food to the elderly and the homeless at this time.

By sharing a kind word, a phone call, making or giving a hot meal, sharing love this Christmas, we can go some way in removing the scourge of loneliness from our society.