Loneliness - The Hidden Epidemic

by Bryan Woods

Two years ago, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, people confronted loneliness on a massive scale. We were positively encouraged to keep away from other people. I remember being completely on my own for two months. That was a tough ask for someone who is used to interacting with other people on a regular basis.

Not that it has always been like that. As an introvert with low self-esteem, I have experienced my share of loneliness.

Among the life issues that can cause loneliness are the bereavement of a spouse or partner, redundancy from a job, physical or mental illness, and divorce.

Loneliness can also affect all age groups. A child who struggles to make friends at school is just as likely to be lonely as an elderly person who talks to nobody for weeks on end.

Yet in our society loneliness is often seen as something that mainly affects the elderly. However, a 2019 survey of people aged between 18 and 27 found that 25% of them reported having no close friends. Even more surprisingly, 22% said they had no friends at all.

Various studies have shown that loneliness can impact on our physical and mental health. It can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, decreased memory, and poor sleep.

People who suffer from prolonged loneliness are also more likely to misuse alcohol or drugs.

Loneliness can be a trigger for depression too. People who have depression often withdraw from society. This exacerbates their feeling of loneliness and deepens their depression. It is a vicious circle to be in.

There is a difference between loneliness and isolation. For example, I have sometimes felt completely cut off from other people for extended periods of time. Then I felt very lonely. But I can quite happily spend a day or two on my own – provided I can mix with other people in between. Even though I have been in isolation (voluntarily), I have not been lonely.

Over the past ten years I have volunteered with several local and national charities. This has given me more self-confidence and enabled me to engage more with other people – an excellent antidote to loneliness!

I am happy to volunteer with Hammersley Homes. I believe its Outreach Services of home visits and telephone support play a vital role in helping to combat loneliness.