The loneliness Minister. Tragedy or necessity ?

Big news today, Tracey Crouch was appointed as Loneliness minister.

Her job? To tackle an issue facing around nine million people in the U K , both young and old.

Look back to the 1950’s would there have been a need for a minister, appointed by the Prime Minister specially to tackle loneliness? Not that I remember….but look at any pictures of those days, or even better watch Call the Midwife and we see neighbours hanging out washing together, we see children playing in the streets , we see Dr’s doing house calls, we see the milkman knowing the life story of his customers, we see community. Obviously life in the 50’s was not perfect, poverty was the norm, but then, pretty much everyone in the community was poor so you did not feel different.

How have we gone from a nation of people who would notice if they did not see their neighbour for a day or two, to a nation where a people do not leave their house for weeks on end and no one notices?

The BBC writes today ” A 2017 report said loneliness was as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” ” An estimated half of people aged 75 and over live alone – about two million people across England – with many saying they can go days, even weeks, with no social interaction at all.”

Loneliness amongst the elderly has been an ongoing issue, which I think people in general are aware of, and slowly more is being done, the spare chair Sunday initiative launched in 2015 encouraged people to open their home to an elderly guest and invite them for a warm and delicious lunch. There are many more befriending agencies then in the past but sadly there is still a long way to go, with library’s and social clubs closing due to lack of funding, children moving further and further away from their parents home, friends and partners passing away, and inability to access transport needs the elderly are finding themselves more isolated then ever before. last year, Charity WRVS warned that more then 360,000 older people felt lonely because their children were too far away and too busy to see them.

It just takes a minute, knock on the door of an elderly neighbour and ask if they are ok.

I wanted to write about loneliness in younger people. research by the Mental Health Foundation found that social media is fuelling isolation among young people. From personal experience, using Wats App has affected my social interaction in a huge way, my husband often gets exasperated when I have a whole conversation through voice message rather than picking up the phone and talking to someone.  Facebook is a world of likes and dislikes, to the extent that a young person putting up messages that she is about to commit suicide will get liked, rather then anyone actually connecting with her and having a conversation.

At every age a person can get lonely, we may be an aging population but we are also getting more and more alone, we need not go the shops, they will come to us, we need not talk to anyone, we need not leave our home.

A young mother for example, staying home with her baby, unable to go out for long due to her babies needs can find her mental health deteriorating at an alarming rate, the need to put on a smile, paint the mask of being a capable, in control parent when going out due to fear of being judged as not coping will become more and more isolated, whilst her single friends are out, working, socialising she is alone.

A stay at home or single dad may find that any groups he does want to go to are overrun with women and feels isolated.

So what to do?

For some people, opening the curtains in the morning is the first step, and a massively positive first step.  taking that scary first step can lead to more and more baby steps, to feel the fear and do it anyway, to give yourself a pat on the back for the smallest of things, can slowly bring about a positive change.

I have heard of people adopting a dog or cat, animals can bring comfort beyond measure.

whatever a person is interested there is something that they can get involved with, for example I love writing, doing a quick search in my area for creative writing groups I am directed to a local café holding open mic nights, and writing and sharing groups. If biking is your thing, there are cycling groups in most areas. interested in Art? do a search of groups in your area.

Volunteering is an amazing way to feel less alone, volunteers are an integral part of the Charity I work at.  There are so many different ways to volunteer that can change a persons life for the better drastically.

Community, though community can at times be suffocating being involved in your community can help combat loneliness. Your local synagogue, church etc. may be able to provide opportunities for you. Another aspect of community is right there in your street, it takes courage to knock on a door of a stranger, but you never know, the person behind the door next to you may be lonely to, they may be hoping that you will take the step and knock on their door.

One last thing, through any kind of group, workshop or volunteering opportunity make a friend, even if it is only one friend, that is all you need for the times when the desperation to have human contact is at its biggest. A friend can bring so much to a persons life.

All the above can sound like a mountain to someone who is alone and afraid, but take the one step, open the curtains, google a group, knock on the door, and every step you take however tiny give yourself credit, you deserve it.

lots of love

Sara

At the park.

I remember, many  years ago standing in a local park, recently divorced, my mental health on a downward spiral, heading towards a devastating nervous breakdown which changed my life for ever, with my then toddler, around me were other mums, huddled in a tight group, they were young mums, the perfect hairdo’s, the perfect buggies, the perfect clothing on their children, perfect nails, perfect bodies..in fact I remember thinking, they were everything I was not, (even though at that time I had for the once and only time in my life…a pretty perfect body!)

The loneliness I felt then will stay with me forever, as I sat, a good 10-20 years older then these girls with my life falling apart I did not know what was to come, I did not know that one day after much heartbreak and trauma I would come back to this park with another toddler and be the one huddled in a group laughing and joking with other mothers ( though our bodies may not be perfect we all think our kids perfection pretty much makes up for  it!)

So I want to talk about loneliness, about how debilitating and harmful it can be. I am feeling lonely right now, it started about a week ago, in the exact same park, on the exact same bench. As I sat looking around it seemed I was completely alone, I felt no one could reach me, no one would connect with me and an overwhelming sadness enveloped me, one which I still have not been able to shake off completly.

I have a wonderful, supportive, caring husband who is my best friend. I have a large family, filled with nieces and nephews of all ages, I have friends and aquantanes, my friends are like a second family to me and I love them all to bits, so I question myself, why do I feel lonely?

I keep on asking myself this question, and have come to the realisation that no matter how many people we have, sometimes we need people to be there for us, and not us for them, this may sound cruel, this may sound selfish, but when you give, and you give the giving will eventually come crashing down around your shoulders and you will be exhausted.

A very sensible person who I hold in the highest esteem often tells me to be mindful of my edge, we all have our edges, that point of no return, when we constantly do for others, and by saying yes to them we say no to others, for example our families or ourselves.

I have learnt that we can be surrounded, we can know deep down that  we are loved and valued and cherished, but unless those around us remind us, show us our value to them, show us they are grateful we can get lonely, so very lonely and so very tired.

As I have experienced the pain of looking outward and feeling sadness so very deeply inside,I have learned to do a few things, when I go to a park, if there is someone sitting alone, I will try to sit with them and strike up conversation, we never know just what a few words can do. I once heard a great story, there was this postman, every day for years he delivered his letters in the same area, no one noticed him, it was almost like he was an invisable part of their existence, the letters dropped on the mat as if by magic, for years he walked his lonely route. One day as he was dropping a letter through a door, it opened, there stood an elderly lady, she smiled at him and started to talk ” For years you have been delivering my post, I see you daily, yet I realise I have never once said thank you, if not for you I would not have so much of what I have now, the letters I hold so dear to my heart from friends who have now departed this world, so thank you sir from the bottom of my heart, I want you to know you are appreciated” . The postman put his bag down and hugged the elderly lady, he wiped his eyes and he said ” Today, I decided that this would be my last day on earth, I am so very lonely and have felt that my life is not worth living anymore, no one notices me, no one would care if I lived or if I died, and so I planned to do one more route just to say farewell in my own way and then go home and take an overdose, you, have just saved my life, you have given me the strength to know that I am appreciated, you have noticed me, and because of you I will not be taking my life today” … now whether this is a true story or not does not matter, what matters is, that we notice those who are invisable to us and let them know we see them.

When I am at a wedding, a party, anywhere I try to notice those who are alone and make a point of talking to them, and the reason I do this is because I have been one of those invisable people, a while back I went to a synagogue I have never been to before, I sat down, smiled at the lady next to me and complimented her on her head scarf, the pain and hurt I felt when she looked me up and down and then turned her back on me was physical, it took my breath away. Are we so shallow that we will only talk to someone who looks the same as us? dresses the same way as us? goes to the same kind of school we send our children to? makes as much money as us? Do we want to be those people who turn our backs and make someone who may be crying inside for just one person to notice her give up?

Today I had a client, and elderly lady who has no children, she threw her arms around me as I walked in to the door, telling me she had not seen or spoken to anyone for 4 days…! How does this happen, in a society where we are in constant 24/7 contact with anyone we want?  Are we surprised that the  people who turn to Facebook, Instagram, snap chat etc to post every detail of their lives and usually the most lonely? Or do we have to realise that it is those people who feel the most invisible, they are crying out to be noticed, but sadly they are only noticed on a screen and not as a person. How many stories do we hear regarding teenagers, who post on Facebook messages asking for help, putting pictures up stating they are about to kill themselves, yet we look, we stare, we shake our heads and mutter “not my problem”

The world now has more means of communication then ever before, yet we live in a time where loneliness is at a higher rate then ever before. I think its time we rethink our priorities.

Lots of love

Sara

 

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