Festive loneliness: How we can all make a difference this Christmas

Wednesday 9 December 2015.

An exciting new Cambridgeshire County Council funded project, Resilient Together, will see Mind in Cambridgeshire working within the communities of Wisbech and the Southern Fringe of Cambridge.

Resilient Together will promote resilience over the next three years. In this blog, Jake Morrison, one of two Campaigns and Programmes Officers with Resilient Together, reflects on the impact of Christmas on those people who are alone — and what all of us can do to share the festive joy.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The days are getting colder, Mariah Carey and Wham are back on our radios, and Quality Street tins are flying off the shelves.

Christmas is a time for joy and celebration, when families come together for Christmas dinner and gather around the TV for the evening to see what Norris is up to in Corrie, and Phil Mitchell is up to in EastEnders.

Christmas time is an extremely busy period, but the day itself is very quiet — the roads are empty and the shops are closed. This Christmas half a million elderly people will be alone and isolated, as will thousands of others including younger people.

We can become lonely and isolated for a number of reasons including life changing events such as; bereavement of a loved one, moving to a new town or city, and circumstances such as lack of transport.

But what is loneliness? It is a lack of meaningful relationships. You can be in a room full of people and still feel isolated and lonely. Intimate relationships where your passions, interests and desires are met with others are the key to curing loneliness.

We know that loneliness is worse for your health than obesity, and can lead to cardiac and vascular problems, as well as fitting hand in hand with depression. The feeling of being isolated can lead to; a feeling of low self-esteem, a wish for instant gratification, it can make it harder to regulate behaviour and can increase risky behaviours such as drinking more alcohol and drug abuse.

However what can we do about it, as individuals and as a community? The first answer that pops in to our head is to invite our lonely neighbour around for lunch. It is something that a few charities are doing around Cambridgeshire. In Liverpool in 2014, 500 people who would have been lonely and isolated on Christmas Day spent the day at the grand St Georges Hall, celebrating the day together all free of charge. This is a quick fix for the day, and it is such an emotional thing to be part of, and is very rewarding.

But more long term, this does not cure loneliness all year round. Community groups, bingo sessions, tea dances are all brilliant things within our communities, and we should be promoting those. This may not be the answer for us all. Research shows that we need to have meaningful relationships and conservations based upon common interests, this can include allotment growing, a music/drama group, or volunteering at a local charity shop.

We all have a role to make our communities stronger. We are all at risk of loneliness. We all have the ability to make change.

This year why not; invite your neighbour around for lunch, talk to the elderly person at the bus stop about their interests, and link them up with someone else you know who shares their interests. Drop a card around on Christmas morning to your neighbour or friend who may be going through a hard time to say you are thinking of them. If you are a school teacher, work with your pupils to create Christmas cards and deliver them to your local nursing home or hospital ward. It is the little things in life that sometimes mean the most.

Whilst Christmas for many people is a time to get together and offer presents, for those people in our communities who do not have someone to talk or share the joy, why not this year share your presence.

For more information about volunteering opportunities to support older members of our community locally check out: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/cambridgeshire/our-services/visiting-scheme/