Loneliness is a blight of all ages

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, February 21, 2014


THE VIEW FROM HERE A LOTTERY bid which aims to combat loneliness has been launched by the charity Age UK IW. If successful, a windfall of between £2 million and £6 million will be used to tackle social isolation among Island residents aged over 50.

Old people endure numerous physical and mental infirmities for which there is no magic pill. But, unlike conditions such as Alzheimer’s or osteoporosis, loneliness is potentially more easily addressed. If Age UK IW succeeds in its bid, the burden of isolation, undoubtedly as crippling as any physical disease, may be in some degree lifted from those whose lives are shrouded in loneliness.

This admirable initiative also provides the opportunity to examine loneliness in a wider context.

A report published by the Mental Health Foundation last year revealed a picture of loneliness in this country which, says Dr Andrew McCulloch, the foundation’s chief executive, transcends "all ages and classes". Loneliness is unsurprising in the old. Their spouses die, their families move away, they can’t get out much and they can be heavy going.

Yet much younger people suffer extreme isolation, too, bringing its own peculiar agony in that they are not expected to be lonely. Young people are supposed to be on a carousel of fun, the whole world in front of them.

Next they’re on the career ladder, surrounded by their families and lots of whizzkid friends, too busy to be lonely.

There are several reasons why these stereotypes do not necessarily accord with reality. More people — an estimated 13 per cent of the UK population — now live alone and the family unit often fails to function as it once did.

Fragmented relationships, higher divorce rates, working from home, single parents, people moving away from communities, insufficient funds to go out and socialise — all these factors contribute to widespread isolation.

It’s painful to admit to loneliness, particularly if you’re a young person. You can easily make "friends" via social networks, of course, but this in itself is arguably a contributory factor in loneliness.

Jabbing away at Facebook or Twitter does not constitute proper friendship and if at the end of the day you’ve had hours of online chats with people you’ll never meet, but no face-to-face contact nor the warmth of a loving hug, it doesn’t take much to realise, even if you won’t openly admit it, that your life is in fact sadly incomplete.

Loneliness is much more than a social inconvenience. It can trigger depression, stress and anxiety.

It also affects physical wellbeing. According to American researchers, loneliness is "twice as deadly as obesity", while other studies have linked it to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes.

So very good luck to Age UK on the Island in its efforts to deal with the problem in the elderly.

But we should also tackle loneliness in younger people. The reasons for its increase are inherent in the way we live.

Our world may be full of clever technology and the freefall of traditional lifestyles but the consequent lack of basic human contact and social dysfunction are ignored at our peril.

Find some help with analysis

I MOSTLY find it best to let my critics have their say, rather than engaging in a tedious round of tit-for-tat retaliation.

"Never explain, never complain" is not a bad tenet for a journalist. In any case, some people are patently mad and others are actually right, so it’s easier just to take it on the chin.

If last week’s letter from Cllr Daryll Pitcher had been written by anybody else, I might merely have shrugged and assigned it to the "not worth bothering about" file. But Cllr Pitcher is a member of UKIP and will presumably be supporting this party at the next election.

So it is deeply worrying that both Cllr Pitcher and his leader, Nigel Farrage, have such difficulty in understanding the printed word. One wonders, indeed, if Mr Farrage can read at all — despite co-signing the foreword of UKIP’s manifesto, he recently said he’d never seen nor heard of many of the policies it contained, later floundering around and saying they were "drivel".

Cllr Pitcher’s bizarre interpretation of my article on Island education leads him to accuse me of suggesting we should become poorer in order to obtain extra funding.

I suggested nothing of the sort. I said our economic situation meant we were not eligible for the kind of funding available in much poorer areas. That is fact, not suggestion.

Nor did I suggest for one moment that being white "is a bad thing". Again, it is fact that multi-cultural areas tend to attract more funding.

"Having a Muslim friend does not automatically enable one to read and write and to suggest it does is rubbish," writes Mr Pitcher, by now in the grip of UKIP paranoia. Of course I never suggested any such thing.

What I do suggest, however, is Cllr Pitcher and Mr Farrage find a friend, Muslim, white, anything so long as they’re literate, who could sit them down and teach them how to analyse the printed word without spouting twaddle that is at least as idiotic as the drivel which Mr Farrage says was in the last UKIP manifesto.

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