100 days – Day 66: All the Lonely People
Two news stories particularly caught my attention today
A Scottish pensioner who lived in Bournemouth lay dead in her flat for SIX YEARS while neighbours held garden parties outside.
Anne Leitrim, in her 70s, hadn’t been seen since 2008. She was only found after the money in her bank account ran out and bailiffs went to her home to collect months of mortgage arrears.
They got in through one of two windows which were ajar at the flat throughout the six years, and discovered “soft-spoken and friendly” Anne’s remains.
Britain has been declared the loneliness capital of Europe.
The Office for National Statistics found that we are less likely to have strong friendships or know our neighbours than inhabitants of any other country in the EU.
Also a survey conducted last year by The Silver Line discovered that 2.5 million older people in Britain described themselves as lonely.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that feeling lonely increased the risk of heart attacks, dementia, depression, and could disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure and lower the immune system. Those who felt isolated from others were 14 per cent more likely to have an early death.
With the percentage of households occupied by one person doubling between 1972 and 2008, and with the decline of community and an increased focus on work, that makes for a lot of disconnected people.
This is a shocking state of affairs
I remember, as an assistant Minister, in 1973-4, visiting a particular lady who would be in her late sixties and single; she lived on the top floor of a block of flats in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh – a soulless housing estate on the western edge of the City. There was little, if anything, to do there – and elderly folk didn’t particularly like going out after dark. Her apartment was on the same floor as three other flats. But she NEVER saw her neighbours; they would either be out at work during the day (or out in the town), and, at night,indoors watching TV.
No wonder this elderly woman suffered from depression and stress, and, on one occasion that I know of, tried to take her own life.
As social beings, most of us feel the need for rewarding social contact and relationships. One common definition of loneliness is that it is the feeling we get when our need for this type of contact is not met.
However, loneliness is not the same as being alone. You might choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people. Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family and still feel lonely.
Loneliness is not feeling part of the world. You might be surrounded by loads of people but… you are [still] lonely.
Loneliness can have a significant impact on your mental health. It can contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
Having a mental health problem can also make you feel lonely. For example, your condition may mean that you find social contact difficult or that you find it hard to maintain friendships, or you may feel isolated because of stigma and discrimination.
Loneliness has many different causes and affects people differently. Often people feel lonely because of their personal circumstances. But sometimes loneliness is a deeper, more constant feeling that comes from within.
Certain lifestyles and the stresses of daily life can make some people socially isolated and vulnerable to loneliness. There are many situations that might make you feel isolated or lonely.
For example, if you:
lose a partner or someone close to you
go through a relationship break-up
are a single parent or caring for someone else – you may find it hard to maintain a social life
retire and lose the social contact you had at work
are older and find it difficult to go out alone
move to a new area without family, friends or community networks
belong to a minority ethnic group and live in an area without others from a similar background
are excluded from social activities – for example, because of mobility problems or a shortage of money
experience discrimination and stigma – for example, because of a disability or long-term health condition, or your gender, race or sexuality
have experienced sexual or physical abuse – you may find it hard to form close relationships with other people.
Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have.
There are many reasons people experience this kind of loneliness. You might feel unable to like yourself or to be liked by others, or you may lack self-confidence. This may come from having been unloved as a child so that, as an adult, you continue to feel unlovable in all relationships. Or sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, people isolate themselves within their relationships because they are afraid of being hurt.
Loneliness, for me, is a side effect of the barriers I’ve put up over the years to protect myself from the world, and the world from me.
If you experience this deeper type of loneliness, you may try to avoid being on your own and spend a lot of time socialising. Or you may react in the opposite way, hiding away on your own so you don’t have to face a world of people you feel unconnected to. You may also develop unhelpful habits, such as using alcohol or drugs, to escape your feelings of loneliness or to face social situations that you can’t avoid.