Three people hit by loneliness - and how they face up to it

Millions of people in the UK report feeling lovely. ITV News Reporter Yasmin Bodalbhai spoke to three people to shine a light on what a leading charity has referred to as the 'loneliness crisis'

Loneliness - it’s something that so many of us feel, at many different stages of our lives.

Every week the Office for National Statistics releases figures on how many people feel chronically lonely. The latest figures show that 8% of adults feel lonely often or all of the time.

That’s millions of people. Leading loneliness charities like the Jo Cox Foundation call it a Loneliness Crisis.

And yet, it’s still something that many find hard to talk about. There’s a stigma to saying you feel lonely.

We spoke to three people who wanted to change that.

Brian, Inverness

Brian is 70-years-old. He’d been married to Margaret for almost 40 years. They did everything together. They were best friends. But as the lockdown began in 2020, she started to display signs of dementia. She deteriorated very quickly and died a few weeks later.

Brian has three grown-up children and they stayed with him for as long as they could after Margaret’s funeral. But eventually they had to go back to work.

Brian said that he started to feel lonely and isolated shortly after the death of his wife. Credit: ITV News

He grieved during a time when Covid restrictions were still in place. And then he had two falls, which reduced his mobility and freedom even more.

Sitting in a quiet house, he felt very, very isolated. At one point, he told us, he thought about ending his life.

But things have got better for Brian. He got involved with a Befriending charity, Befrienders Highland, which arranged a half hour phone call every week from a man called Iain.

That small amount of human contact has made a world of difference. He’s even trained to become a befriender himself to help others who feel isolated.

There are many different types of loneliness and many different reasons and situations behind it.

It’s a misconception that only older people experience it. In fact, research shows that some of the loneliest people are in younger age groups.

There are some key moments in life that can trigger the feeling - going to university, starting a new job, a relationship breakdown, becoming a new parent, or being a single parent, for example.

Carly, London

36-year-old Carly is a single mum. She adores her son Ezra. But she looks after him on her own, and that, she says, can be really isolating.

While for many the pandemic was a lonely time, for Carly, the lockdown was actually a big relief.

Everyone was in the restricted position that she is always in. When those restrictions eased and people started to go out once more, she felt more disconnected with the world again - a bit left behind.

Carly found the lockdowns, brought about by the Covid pandemic, helped to ease her loneliness concerns. Credit: ITV News

The Covid pandemic has had a lasting impact on what some call the loneliness pandemic.

The most recent research by the British Red Cross found that more than a quarter of respondents said the Covid-19 pandemic had left them feeling more isolated than at any other point in their lives.

Crucially, around a third said they were still experiencing loneliness even as restrictions eased, and 37% said the pandemic had had a lasting effect on their relationships and social connections.

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Louise, south Wales

Louise found the pandemic really difficult. It coincided with a major relationship breakdown, in which her husband of 25 years suddenly left her. She had to move home and rebuild her life in a new place.

The lockdown, together with her feelings of loneliness affected her mental health and she became withdrawn. She says it was like a vicious cycle that she couldn’t break out of.

She tells us that at one point she wondered what the point of carrying on was. She says the thought of her grandchildren kept her going.

She did summon up the strength and courage to go out again and she now regularly goes to a community café.

Louise revealed that she now regularly goes to a community cafe to keep busy. Credit: ITV News

The Jo Cox Foundation is concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis.

In 2018, the UK led the way on this issue by launching the first cross-government strategy to tackle loneliness and appointing the world's first Minister for Loneliness.

But the charity says the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has made the need to address the issue even more pressing.

It says it will be urging the incoming prime minister to prioritise the issue of loneliness.

Loneliness charities like the Marmalade Trust say that loneliness is a completely natural human emotion. They say we need to normalise it by speaking openly about it.

Carly says that saying out loud that she sometimes feels lonely has helped to break the stigma, and has made her realise that she’s not alone in feeling lonely.

The Minister for Civil Society and Youth, Nigel Huddleston, told ITV News the government has "prioritised tackling loneliness and will continue to do so".

"We are supporting charity and community groups to help people affected and we have reached millions of people through campaigns, including during Mental Health Awareness Week and Loneliness Awareness Week, to make a real difference for those who are struggling," he added.

Where can you get help for loneliness?

  • Age UK offer a befriending service helpline (0800 678 1602), which is open 365 days a year from 8am to 7pm. The charity also has two different friendship services - one over telephone and the other face-to-face - to help combat loneliness in later life.

  • The charity, Campaign to End Loneliness, works to ensure the people most at risk of loneliness are reached and supported. Its website provides free resources on how people who are feeling lonely can aim to improve their situation.

  • British Red Cross' Community Connectors provide help to connect people with their local community and find them new friends and activities. They have a helpline (0808 196 3651), which is open Monday to Friday between 10am and 5pm.

  • The Samaritans website has a list of tips to help people who are feeling lonely. It also runs a free to use 24/7 helpline (116 123) and an online chat feature, available for anyone who wants a chat.