For many people across the country, Christmas can be an isolating experience. Often we consider loneliness a problem that faces the elderly, as they are more likely to have suffered bereavement, illness or mobility issues which can all lead to feeling of loneliness over the Christmas period. Surprisingly, it is also becoming an increasing problem for younger people, with young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 feeling lonely more often than those in a higher age group.
Loneliness is a natural response to being alone, isolated or misunderstood. It’s definition is hard to pinpoint, as it is a very personal experience, and being alone does not always equate to being lonely. It is something we all feel from time to time, and is generally easily remedied by speaking with those who understand and care for us. For many people in the UK, both young and old, finding comfort in friends and family can be difficult. Combined with the festive pressure of being merry and joyful feelings of loneliness can become painful and even debilitating.
Young people are less likely to feel the effects of poor mobility and illness that can isolate the elderly (those these can of course be loneliness factors.) Some other reasons for loneliness could be the death of a family member or friend, being estranged from family, having an unhappy relationship, feeling like an ‘outsider’ due to factors like gender, race, or sexuality, or having moved away from home. In fact young people in rented accommodation who are new to an area are one of the three high risk profiles for feeling lonely (along with widows and those with long term health conditions). It’s also important to consider the general increase in rates of depression and mental health issues in the UK. According to a 2019 study the largest increase was among 20 to 21 year olds, with a 78% increase in those experiencing serious psychological distress between 2008 and 2017. Often mental health issues can cause a feeling of loneliness and/or lead to isolation.
Loneliness in young people can present itself slightly differently compared to the older generation, so it’s important to be able to recognise these signs and help someone who may be struggling. This could be a friend, a colleague, or a family member. Remember it’s possible to be lonely in a room full of people, and on the contrary others thrive when left alone.
Some signs to look out for are:
• Being isolated, either by themselves or by other people. Being less social than normal or staying inside (for example you might notice this in a house mate or friend at university, as moving away from home can be a big trigger for loneliness)
• Being exceptionally quiet and disconnected (though this is not always the case, even the most outgoing and sociable personalities can feel lonely)
• Having no desire to engage in festive activities, which could be a reminder of what they feel they are missing out on, or someone they have lost
• Avoiding activities they usually enjoy
• Signs of other mental health issues like depression or anxiety
If you or a friend are feeling lonely over Christmas, there are many ways to get help. It is important not to add additional pressure onto those who might find Christmas difficult, but you could invite a friend over for dinner/evening drinks, pop by their house on Christmas day for a cuppa, or maybe just a phone call. If you yourself are lonely try booking a holiday and make new, happy memories to associate with the time of year. Of course not everyone has the time or money to travel, but perhaps volunteering at a charity or contacting a local support centre could be a good way to combat loneliness this Christmas. You can find out more information about mental health issues on our blog, such as how to manage burnout, and how to master stress.
If loneliness this Christmas becomes overwhelming, there are many places to turn for support.
For younger people experiencing loneliness:
0300 123 3393
Helpline for mental health issues and advice
Resources for young people’s mental health support
Call or Text 116 000
Helpline supporting young people who are considering running away/are homeless
For older people experiencing loneliness:
Information on befriending, including an online directory of UK befriending services.
0800 678 1602
Information and support for older people.
For grief or bereavement:
Cruse Bereavement Care
0844 477 9400
0800 435 455