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  1. ITV Report

'It's like an emptiness': Opening up about the pain of loneliness

New research has shown that the East of England is one of the loneliest places in the UK.

The charity Turning Point found more than a third (37%) of people living in the region reported feeling socially isolated.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, it's an issue which costs our economy £32 billion pounds every year, and is worse for your health than being obese.

We often hear how it affects older people, but it is becoming a growing problem for younger people too.

A recent YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people found nearly nine in ten (88%) Britons aged between 18-24 experienced some form of loneliness. That compares to 70% for those aged over 55.

It is a feeling that Laura Graham, from Northampton, knows all too well.

She has struggled with loneliness ever since her mother died: "My mum passed away when I was 26, and that really impacted me not having that person to talk to."

Laura (right) found volunteering with Age UK Northamptonshire helped lift the pain of loneliness, so much so, she now works for them. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"Living alone, and not having children as well you know as you move into your 30s you become more socially isolated.

"It’s not about not having people around you or not having friends, I think that’s the misconception.

"It’s more like an emptiness, or a hollow feeling like something’s missing. So you could be in a crowded room and have lots of people you could technically connect with but it’s always still there lingering.”

– Laura Graham

Laura believes it is a growing problem, which can affect anyone at any age.

She said: “I’ve met with the previous loneliness minister around this issue.

"It’s a huge problem for the NHS, for society in general, and there is a cost attached to it.

"We know that loneliness actually impacts physical and mental health, and it can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

"So if we know that that’s the case, we really need to take it seriously as a public health issue, and not just something that’s connected to older people, it really impacts everyone.”

Laura has set up a magazine called Happy Hood, dedicated to celebrating good news in Northamptonshire. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Laura found volunteering with Age UK Northamptonshire helped lift the pain of loneliness, so much so, she now works for them.

She has also set up a magazine called Happy Hood, dedicated to celebrating good news in the county.

It focuses on the work of independent businesses, charities and individuals in Northamptonshire, showing how people can help themselves by getting involved in their own community.

  • Click to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Rebecca Haworth

“I found connecting with my neighbours, volunteering, talking to people, and actually admitting how I was feeling has definitely helped me.

"It won’t always fix the problem for everyone, but I think if you can reach out and feel confident enough to do that, whether that’s to friends or family, or to support services, your GP, anyone, but it’s really important to admit the issue so you can start to work to fix it.”

– Laura Graham