LONELINESS is an epidemic that’s easy to solve - by company, Esther Rantzen told The Yorkshire Post.
The Silver Line founder was in Leeds yesterday to speak about the scourge of loneliness, something that she was only too well aware of after experiencing it herself at the age of 71.
Ms Rantzen said: “I know how I felt when living alone for the first time having moved from the family home at the age of 71 to a two-bedroom flat. All my life I had lived with family, flatmates or my husband and it was very tough coming home from a busy day and finishing yourself in a dark flat with nobody to talk to, no one to have a cup of tea with or watch television with.
“I wrote about it and was inundated with responses. I thought a helpline could fill some of the gap that loneliness creates.”
After getting the support of the Campaign to End Loneliness, work began and The Silver Line was launched in November last year.
Ms Rantzen said: “We received between seven and eight hundred calls a day and the biggest problem they bring to us is loneliness.
“53 per cent say they have no one else to talk to.”
The free, confidential line is always open. Ms Rantzen said that 60 per cent of calls were received out of office hours, where other helplines might be closed.
She said: “We had an independent evaluation, and the name of the report was a direct quote from one of our callers, who said ‘When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race’. Others have told us that they think it is wonderful to talk to someone who seems interested in what they have to say.
“That says something about the way people feel - loneliness erodes confidence. One lady to wrote to us and said that she’d felt like a waste of space. No older person should feel like that.”
Ms Rantzen said the success of Silver Line could be seen through their callers.
She said: “The people who call us have become our ambassadors. One lady who lives on her own is making cards us to share our details, she’s a talented artist. And another man gives out leaflets.
“This is vital not only to spread awareness but they feel like they are doing a valuable job for us.”
Yesterday she whole-heartedly backed The Yorkshire Post’s campaign for action on the hidden epidemic.
“There are all sorts of reasons why this has become an epidemic. The fact that we’re living longer, families are growing up and moving away.
“The Yorkshire Post is brilliant to draw attention to it because this is not like other epidemics, when you think of diseases that are so difficult to treat. In fact, loneliness is very simple. the basic cure is company, and if you all reach out to the people who need us we will be able to create a transformation int he lives of older people in this country.
“Our research leads us to believe there are 2.5m people who feel lonely, but there is real stigma in admitting it.”
Ms Rantzen was in the region yesterday to speak at the University of Leeds’ AKTIVE conference, where technology was touted as a possible solution to loneliness in older people.
She added: “We did a survey when we launched, 83 per cent of older people told us that it was difficult to talk about loneliness because they don’t want to become a burden. We’re talking about a proud generation that don’t want to ask for help.
“Lonely people need contact, it can be actual or on the phone. Human beings are pack animals.”