The heart-breaking scale of loneliness affecting people across the Yorkshire region, and the disturbing health burden it creates, are revealed today at the launch of a new call to action led by the Yorkshire Post.
There are 281,870 over 65s who live alone across the region and almost a third - 91,300 older people - admit to feeling lonely all of the time or often and behind that sad statistic are serious health implications. According to research, living with loneliness is equally as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The effects on mortality of loneliness and isolation exceed those of other well-known risk factors such as obesity. High blood pressure, a heightened risk of cognitive decline and likelihood of developing dementia have all been connected to persistently loneliness. The associated biological stress is also linked to increased risks of contracting cardiovascular disease.
To highlight the human cost, the Yorkshire Post is joining forces with national charity, the Campaign to End Loneliness to urge all local authorities to write loneliness into their health strategies and to encourage more people to volunteer for projects in their communities to alleviate the problem.
Nine local authorities in the region fail to significantly mention loneliness and social isolation in the strategies devised by their health and wellbeing boards. To send a clear message that local authorities must to more to tackle the issue hindering our communities, readers are encouraged to write to their local authority calling for loneliness to be a health priority.
Kate Jopling, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness: “It’s easy to think of loneliness as just another feeling – like being happy or sad. But in many ways loneliness is more like hunger. It may be an individual experience - I can’t know how hungry someone else is - but if they stay hungry long enough, and do not find food, then they will ultimately become ill. Loneliness tells us we need meaningful human relationships, it’s an urge that guides us to something we need. If we don’t support those who are feeling lonely to find the company they need, then their health will suffer.
“Without action to tackle loneliness it will continue to blight older people’s lives, risking their health. With a growing older population more and more people face a lonely future - an epidemic of loneliness awaits us if we don’t take the simple steps needed to address this problem.
“We need the authorities tasked with looking after our health and wellbeing to recognise the importance of this issue and make long term plans to address it. And we need those responsible for commissioning services, to invest in the sort of low level, but highly effective schemes that help lonely people to make new meaningful connections.”
As part of our campaign, a summit will held in the coming months to discuss how loneliness can be tackled more effectively.
How the lonely can seek support
There are a number of helplines which are run by charitable organisations for people who are suffering from loneliness and want someone to talk to.
Royal Voluntary Service operates a helpline on 0845 608 0122 (Monday to Friday 8am-8pm; Saturday 9am-5pm). Calls are charged at a standard rate when using a BT landline. Calls from other providers or from mobile phones may be charged at a higher rate.
Independent Age operates a freephone advice service on 0800 319 6789 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm).
Volunteering opportunities are available with both charities. For the RVS, visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk or contact the charity on the number above. To find out more about volunteering with Independent Age, visit www.independentage.org/volunteer