The curse of loneliness: East Devon’s hidden killer

Loneliness can kill. It can be as dangerous as obesity and as bad for your health as smoking – and it is most harmful to those aged over 75. In East Devon, where the average age is higher than many other parts of the country, the percentage of residents who are pensioners is expected to rise from around 30 per cent to 32.5 per cent by 2027.

If you are feeling lonely, this story is for you. It contains helpful information to get you the right support.

Yesterday (July 20), the Campaign to End Loneliness responded to a new report by the British Red Cross – Barriers to Belonging – which suggests that feeling part of a community helps to tackle loneliness.

In Honiton TRIP Community Transport Association recognises there is a problem locally and is doing everything it can to make people feel valued and be part of what is going on. It recruits and trains befrienders to offer companionship.

Trip Befriending connects the lonely with police-checked volunteers who visit for a cuppa and a chat. It also helps people find the confidence to join a local group or take up an activity. The service covers Honiton and the surrounding villages.

For more info about becoming a befriender, call 07841 525646.

The NHS and other organisations, including Age UK, are also taking action to reduce the impact of loneliness. A recent study, commissioned by The Eden Project, found those who feel isolated could be costing the economy £32 billion every year.

In March this year, The Silver Line set up by Esther Rantzen received more than 48,000 calls – breaking all previous records.

According to the NHS, older people are more likely to feel lonely than any other age group. It warns that the impact can exasperate illnesses and heighten the feeling of isolation for those suffering from a disability.

While a systematic review in the US suggested lonely people die younger, campaigners in the UK are in no doubt that older people impacted by loneliness are at increased risk.

The Campaign to End Loneliness says lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. It cites validated research and claims the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to double to two million by 2026. Loneliness across all age groups has been estimated at 9 million.

Responding to the Barriers to Belonging report, the charity said: “As well as the known triggers and cumulative factors for loneliness – bereavement, loss of work or low income, physical and mental health problems and barriers to accessing services – this report highlights additional factors experienced by BAME groups including racism, discrimination and xenophobia. This has to change.

“Support for those who are lonely needs to be personalised, and be affordable, diverse and culturally sensitive. Community engagement and collaboration can help service providers better reflect the diversity within their communities.”

Locally, groups in Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton have undertaken work to identify and connect with those who are feeling isolated – often following the loss of a partner or because of reduced mobility.

And the U3A, which the NHS is hailing as a way out of the loneliness trap, has a thriving branch in Honiton as well as elsewhere in Devon.

Research by Sense suggests up to 50 per cent of those with a  disability will be feeling lonely on any given day.

Mental health charity Mind says: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem increases your chance of feeling lonely, and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health.”

Extensive research was carried out into loneliness in East Devon in 2017 and the results suggested the problem can lead to self-neglect and often embarrassment – with those impacted too shy to get the help they need.

You don’t have to suffer in silence. Help is available.

How to beat loneliness

If you are feeling lonely, don’t worry. There are lots of other people feeling exactly the same as you – right now. The first step to overcoming the feeling of isolation is to ask yourself while you feel lonely.

Have you lost a partner? Do you have an illness or disability? Is there a particular day or time when the loneliness feels worse?

Once you know why you are feeling lonely, you can reach out and get the right support.

  • If you are feeling isolated in your home and would like someone to talk to on a regular basis, call TRIP Befriending Service on 01404 46529.
  • Contact Age UK for free advice and information on its local groups.
  • Find your nearest U3A.
  • Honiton 55+.
  • The Silver Line 0800 470 8090.
  • The NHS Loneliness Guide for friends and relatives of those who may be feeling lonely

Add your service or group to this list. Contact us.

Share your story – email or call 07798716146.

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