Simple steps can help people who are struggling with loneliness - Daxa Patel

I have previously written columns for The Yorkshire Post but I wanted to write on a specific subject that I am really passionate about. Therefore I hope to dedicate Fridays to raising awareness of the challenges faced by our senior citizens, and other vulnerable groups.

Sometimes, we sadly observe the unfairness in how certain sections of our society are marginalised. At times it is simply unconscious whereas, there are occasions where it is pure disregard.

I would love to hear more from the readers on the issues that are affecting them that warrant greater attention.

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This week the issue that got under my skin is that of loneliness. I promised myself, I will steer clear of politics but the government is not paying attention to a looming epidemic, that is loneliness in different sections of our population. Covid-19 and ‘social distancing’ is just one example of factors that have exacerbated this problem.

'Think of two names in your diary today, and just pick up the phone to them. Call them to say hello and make them feel visible.''Think of two names in your diary today, and just pick up the phone to them. Call them to say hello and make them feel visible.'
'Think of two names in your diary today, and just pick up the phone to them. Call them to say hello and make them feel visible.'

If you put a post-it note on the wall to say, I must stretch today, every day you look at it but in time it just becomes part of the wall. Just like that we have become desensitised. I question are we doing enough to combat the causes, and provide support to those who need it the most?

The late MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, noticed while on her rounds she was knocking on many doors which were rarely opened. That was in 2015. Many people whose votes were sought were in fact desperately isolated.

Loneliness does not just affect our elderly, even young students or single people feel it.

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According to Age UK, 1.4 million older people in this country are often lonely. In this group there are many contributing factors that make this worse. I mentioned the pandemic and whoever invented the term ‘social isolation’ failed to see the obvious.

The factors that make loneliness worse in our elderly include the fear of falling. Fear of navigating public transport or getting into a taxi where the driver is not known.

AI is assumed to be for everyone, but how much of the AI out there is geared towards empowering the elderly? I remember getting my dad a mobile phone with big buttons, that was good, but how about the font on the iPad? Things have improved but an older person needs someone to show them how to use technology in the way it feels easy to them.

So, what does help? As a mindset and leadership coach, I look at strategies for self- care and self-help.

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Local neighbourhood networks are a fantastic solution to helping older people go somewhere warm where they will be welcomed with a cup of tea and more importantly provide them some company. In Leeds alone we have 37 such networks.

Smile regardless. This really helps to re-energise the happy hormones.

Invite friends over for tea.

Dance, I remember in the early days of my grief I used to dance clutching my dad’s photo to one of my favourite songs. Crazy, I know, but movement of any kind gets the energy flowing to lift our mood.

Visit the local library, we are fortunate to still have free libraries in our city. These places are warm with friendly staff. It can be comforting to go somewhere where you can read and see other people.

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If you have someone who can, get them to teach you to use Zoom and Facetime to connect with your friends and family.

Volunteer with a local charity or the Church- helping others can make us feel less invisible, and engagement makes us feel valued.

Young people, the Generation Z, age 18-22, reported feeling loneliness according to a study by Cigna, and 71 per cent feeling lonely at times in a survey done by YouGov. Having nobody to turn to can lead to depression and poor mental health.

Debilitating long-term illness or disability can also compound a sense of loneliness. We all have physical health and we all have mental health. A feeling of loneliness is not age specific but by raising awareness we can all take responsibility for doing what we can to help others around us feel less lonely. Surely, that is within everyone’s gift, even mine. Ten minute GP appointments are unhelpful as often the only person you can turn to, to share how you are feeling is your GP. Stipulating that they can only talk about one ailment at a time means patients are deprived of asking for help.

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My biggest bugbear is the rise in supermarkets of self-service checkouts. Good for improving profit margins but do supermarket owners appreciate their community responsibility? Checkout staff do more than just serve the customer, often they are the only person with whom the customer might speak to in that week.

The responsibility to reduce loneliness is not something we can outsource, we must own the problem and play our part to truly appreciate what is an avoidable epidemic.

If you take nothing else from this piece, think of two names in your diary today, and just pick up the phone to them. Call them to say hello and make them feel visible.

Daxa Patel is a solicitor, author and executive coach.