Jo Cox writes a column every month for The Press newspaper, this month’s appears in today’s edition.
Loneliness and isolation is becoming more and more of an issue.
The general election campaign brought the scale of the problem home to me. Knocking on thousands of doors and speaking to thousands of people you get talking, and this was something that came up more often than you’d realise.
What compounds the problem is that actually, the majority of people affected won’t talk about it. They’d rather admit or discuss all sorts of thing than talk about feeling lonely.
A recent survey by the Co-operative Group found two thirds of people in Yorkshire would be uncomfortable confiding in a friend or relation that they feel lonely. Almost 30 per cent said they knew someone who was lonely and 14 per cent said they were regularly affected by loneliness
It is now ‘highly likely’ that people will experience loneliness at some point in their lives.
There are many factors fuelling this – more people living alone, an ageing population, high divorce rates, and people commuting further and further to work. There’s also a theory there is a link to the rising use and popularity of social media. There are quite tangible health and wellbeing implications, not just on mental health as you might expect but also physical health.
It’s not just the Co-op who are showing an interest in this. The British Red Cross is tackling it, the Yorkshire Post newspaper has been doing some great work and included it in its Yorkshire Manifesto ahead of this year’s general election. They estimate that loneliness affects more than 91,000 people in Yorkshire.
Even the department store John Lewis has referenced the issue in its Christmas advertising campaign. I appreciate the retailer’s motive may or may not be the same as the Red Cross’s but a prime time TV reference to this issue helps raise it in people’s consciousness. And we know, once an issue takes hold in the British consciousness, the results can be impressive.
Young and old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. But there is a more significant problem with older people because many fear of becoming a burden on their loved ones.
There are many local charities and organisations doing good work on this. Among them is the Royal Volunteering Service. It runs a number of services that are designed to help mitigate the problem. In addition they look are tackling not only the causes but also some of the symptoms.
One of the services is the befriending service, where volunteers visit people who are feeling lonely or isolated. I met with a befriender who works for the Royal Voluntary Service in his spare time and I shadowed him on one of his visits. Each week volunteers such as David visit someone who is lonely or isolated for a chat and to offer some support and practical help.
It’s an incredibly simple and valuable way of making a difference.
Starting to battle this isn’t rocket science. It is something that many of us can assist with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time. These simple steps could really make a difference to someone.