Tackling the emotional side of isolation: The next big challenge for the loneliness agenda

Laura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. Picture: CTELLaura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. Picture: CTEL
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. Picture: CTEL
Political interest in loneliness has “rocketed” in the last five years leading to increased services for the lonely, a leading campaigner has said, but attention must now turn to addressing the emotional needs of those suffering.

The executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, Laura Alcock-Ferguson, said the landscape around loneliness had “changed hugely” since it partnered with the Yorkshire Post to launch Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic in February 2014.

“Five years ago loneliness was not well understood by policy makers and certainly wasn’t prioritised or even talked about at all,” she said. “Now, not only do we have the Minister for Loneliness, but 40-plus commitments across 10 departments in Westminster.

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“The interest has just rocketed, and the groundswell isn’t limited to Westminster, but also Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and beyond. There’s now a Coalition to End Loneliness in Australia, they are looking to set one up in the States, and there’s one in Denmark. Now we’re looking at how we can all influence together.

“But the issue itself hasn’t changed. There are the same amount of people feeling lonely now as there were five years ago - there simply isn’t an end game when it comes to loneliness, there is still a lot of work to do.”

For those people experiencing loneliness right now, only “senior level commitments” will help to change lives, she said. But she added, “there’s an awful lot that needs to be done beyond politics”.

“Businesses need to talk to their employees about work-life balance and keeping connected in a way that keeps them happy,” she said.

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“There are still gaps, despite all the progressive strategies that have been published, for those who are most affected by loneliness, and don’t get out as they have limited support networks.

“Local services are sometimes the only things that can help people in this situation - full time carers, for example, will have no time for themselves.”

She said there had been a “cultural shift” that enabled people to talk more freely about their vulnerabilities, but it the willingness to open up remained an issue, and greater support was needed to for people working through the emotions of recognising their own loneliness.

Ms Alcock-Ferguson said. “In ten years time, we will still have 10 per cent of older people feeling lonely.

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“While there isn’t enough practical support for people who are chronically lonely, there is also no support at all for people who may require emotional help for loneliness. Almost none of the services actually address how we feel about loneliness.

“Loneliness isn’t only addressed by talking to someone, it’s addressed in our heads and hearts.”