According to MSN News, loneliness is deadlier than obesity or smoking! Recognizing that dire health condition of sorts, Great Britain recently took a major step to reducing the incidence of loneliness.
Britain has appointed a minister for loneliness to take forward the work of murdered lawmaker Jo Cox and tackle the isolation felt by more than one in 10 people in the UK, reports the Business Insider.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch will take on the new role, in addition to her existing job, and develop a strategy to address the problem, which research has linked with dementia, early mortality, and high blood pressure.
The majority of people over 75 live alone, and about 200,000 older people in the UK have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, according to government data.
Most doctors in Britain see between one and five patients a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, a network tackling the health threat that isolation poses to the elderly. See https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/
While recent news reports centered on the UK, it’s fair to assume that loneliness is a major problem in the US as well. What to do?
As someone who has worked mainly from home for more than 6 years, and who was single until I was 34, loneliness is a condition I can unfortunately relate to quite well. The following are some suggestions:
* Get on the phone. Call someone, anyone, even if it’s for just for a few minutes. Doing so will help remind you that you are connected to the outside world, even if it doesn’t seem like it. If you’re estranged from your family, what about a friend? Neighbor? Don’t worry about the phone bill – your mental health is worth it!
* Go online. Personally, I am a much bigger believer that, short of face to face, phone conversations are more helpful than online posts on Facebook and other social media platforms. However, this isn’t to say that online friends can’t be a big help to alleviating loneliness for others, and as such these forums shouldn’t be overlooked.
* Get out of the house. Go for a walk, frequent a local diner and talk to the waitress and other customers … anything to get you outside of your residence is apt to help. If you aren’t very ambulatory or don’t have a car, do you have a motorized scooter? Know someone who could pick you up? Never be afraid to ask!
* Invite someone over. The possibilities are endless: it could be to enjoy a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner, to play cards, or even just to talk. Or, if applicable, sign up to have Meals on Wheels delivered to you – that way you are sure of regular contact with people, even if it is brief.
* Get a pet. While there is often nothing quite like face-to-face contact with fellow human beings, owning a pet can get pretty close! I experienced this myself this past year when I went from having my loving Maltese, Baxter, by me every day for more than 5 years, to zip…nada. Nobody. It got lonely around the house. If getting a pet isn’t an option, could you pet-sit for a friend or neighbor? Walk their dog?
These suggestions might seem reasonably obvious, but here’s the thing: YOU have to be the person who takes the bull by the horns to do whatever you can so you are not so isolated. Don’t expect someone else to understand what it’s like to be lonely – do whatever, whenever you can. It’s like my wife told me when I hesitated to apply for a part-time job over the holidays – I had no business complaining about being alone if I did not do something about it myself.
But I am certainly no mental health expert! If none of these ideas work, you may need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. And that’s okay, too.
In any case, just a few random thoughts from someone who knows what it’s like to be lonely over an extended period of time.