So, here we are again, Valentine’s Day. A day typically filled with flowers, chocolates and love, but for many of us the celebration can heighten feelings of isolation and exclusion, making it a difficult time to navigate. Loneliness can be a difficult subject to discuss, but the reality is that almost everyone will experience feelings of loneliness at some point in their lives.
Feelings of loneliness can trickle in at any time, and sometimes very unexpectedly. We often associate loneliness with being physically alone, isolated and old age. For some of us, life events such as retirement, bereavement, a breakup or moving house can conjure overwhelming feelings of loneliness, even if we do have people around us to offer support.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 9 million of us in the UK have reported feeling lonely ‘always’ or ‘often’ (that’s about the population of London). And unlike popularly held beliefs, it is in fact 16-25-year olds that report feeling lonely more frequently than those aged 55+.
Interestingly, the ONS revealed that a contributing factor towards feelings of loneliness was not feeling a sense of belonging [in a neighbourhood] and perhaps less surprisingly, living alone with long term health conditions.
It’s been reported that ¾ GPs in the UK claim that we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic’, with 1-5 people a day reporting suffering with feelings of loneliness, the government has appointed a Minister for Loneliness to help tackle the growing problem. In an effort to tackle the epidemic, the NHS has introduced ‘social prescribing’, whereby patients are referred to local charities and community centred activities as a means to improve their health and wellbeing.
With social prescribing in the UK on the rise, it’s predicted that at least 900,000 people will be referred by 2024. Free services that focus on personal and social wellbeing as well building a community are essential for the growth and improvement of social welfare that desperately needs attention.
With that in mind, we hope that this Valentine’s we can each pay a little more attention to those around us who might be feeling lonely – remembering that loneliness doesn’t discriminate and those we least assume to feel that way, could. Normalising loneliness is one of the ways to break the stigma and create a sense of community. So, this Valentines’ Day, we hope that however the day might make you feel, you can be that bit more mindful and connected to those around you, and perhaps celebrate that instead.