Support needed for ‘epidemic’ of loneliness among parents

Martin Copley and his three children.

MORE THAN half of Yorkshire parents have felt lonely in the last year - with almost a third saying they had become more lonely since becoming a parent, a new poll released today has found.

Charity Action for Children has commissioned new research to highlight the “epidemic” of loneliness among parents as part of its month-long partnership with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which begins today.

The survey of parents in Yorkshire revealed that 57 per cent had felt lonely in the last year, with almost half of these, 23 per cent in total, admitting they felt lonely in the last week.

Read more: The hidden loneliness of the new motherMore than a quarter of Yorkshire parents, 26 per cent, admitted that loneliness was a problem for them, and three in ten said that since becoming a parent they often felt cut off from friends.

Almost two thirds, 60 per cent, worried that their child was lonely often or some of the time.

The survey also spoke to 500 UK children, and more than a third, 39 per cent, also said they had felt lonely in the past week.

Sustained loneliness can have a significant impact on mental and physical health. As well as contributing to stress, anxiety, paranoia, depression and heart disease, there is also a link with lower academic achievement in young people, the charity said.

The isolation and strain of coping with two children with disabilities and full time jobs with little support nearly tore one West Yorkshire family apart.

Martin and Danielle Copley, from Dewsbury, have three children. The eldest has high functioning autism, their middle child has ADHD and, though waiting for official diagnosis, possible autism and learning difficulties.

The “pressure cooker” of trying to juggle work, family life and fighting to get the right support for their children put the couple’s marriage at breaking point and left them both feeling isolated. Mr Copley said he has Dewsbury Children’s Centre to thank for the family still being together.

“Meeting other parents and carers in the same situation, facing the same issues, sharing experiences, advice and information was such a relief,” he said. “To get rid of that feeling of being isolated, of being the only ones going through this, of being so alone was a major step for me and my wife.”

Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “We know from our services across the UK the devastating impact loneliness can have on the lives of children, young people and families. Now is the time to raise the volume on this issue and ensure much-needed research, funding and support is put in place. Whilst part of the solution lies with funders and policy makers, there is a role for every one of us in addressing this epidemic in our communities.”

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to highlight the issue of loneliness since February 2014. Last month we joined with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to back its Start A Conversation initiative, to urge our readers to play their part in tackling the loneliness epidemic.

Co-chairs of the Commission, MPs Rachel Reeves, who represents Leeds West, and Seema Kennedy, said: “The worrying thing is the impact this parental loneliness then has on families and young people in particular.

“Jo recognised the need to start a national conversation about loneliness and it’s essential that charities like Action for Children continue that conversation and highlight the issues.”

The National Deaf Children’s Society applauded the survey. Its research shows that 80 per cent of disabled young people are lonely.

Deputy director Jo Campion said: “All too often loneliness is left untackled and unmentioned, sidestepped as a peripheral problem.

“As this vital new research so clearly demonstrates, for parents, for children, and for families, loneliness can be both devastating and pernicious. For families with a disabled child this is doubly true - research shows that 80 per cent of disabled young people report feeling lonely.

“The work I do with deaf children highlights how much more all of us in society need to do to put loneliness firmly on the agenda, and at the forefront of our political thinking.”

ction for Children is launching its #startswithhello campaign, which aims to encourage others to reach out to their community and to make connections.

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