A loneliness emergency looms this winter.
With much of central Scotland going back into a stricter lockdown today, and the rest of the country facing changes at short notice, it’s a good time to listen to those who have already felt alone or isolated since the start of Covid.
In our new report published last week, people from across the UK told the British Red Cross how lonely they felt during initial lockdown months – “I’ve barely seen anyone since March” – and how worried they were about the impact of future measures – “I just really fear that cases will go up, lockdown will be reinforced”.
Lonely and Left Behind (this link will take you away from our website) paints a vivid picture of those who continued to shield or self-isolate after initial restrictions were eased in the summer. It follows sixteen people across the UK who recorded diaries over the summer months and tells a story of isolation and worry.
“Last week it was difficult, it was hard. I had a lot of downtime without work and it gave me time to do a lot of thinking about myself. I was really feeling I needed some kind of contact with someone.”
The impact of loneliness on people’s health is well documented. It can be as dangerous for physical heath as smoking or obesity and our new polling shows that it has had a negative effect on the mental health of a third of people in Scotland.
People told us how simple things they used to take for granted – being able to browse shops, study in the company of other people or have banter at work – have become sorely missed. We heard how people were unable to see their partners, out of work and cut off from their friends.
People have been fearful of passing the virus onto those they care for. At a recent Campaign to End Loneliness seminar, the Glasgow Disability Alliance shared its experience of many service users who were unsure of help available and worried about loneliness.
Unlike the initial lockdown in March, the days are short and dark, it’s cold and wet and our lives have now been disrupted for eight months. With so many already having spent many months behind closed doors, seasonal pressures threaten to exacerbate an already challenging situation for many more.
Loneliness doesn’t suddenly appear overnight. It’s a process which can be gradual and often those facing it don’t even recognise it straight away. It affects people of every age and in every part of the country. Despite all this, the solutions are extremely straightforward.
That’s why the Red Cross has put forward some simple recommendations for the Scottish Government to help tackle loneliness this winter, including:
- running public adverts on alternative ways to connect,
- making loneliness a key part of the Clear Your Head mental health campaign, and
- ensuring existing work in tackling digital isolation is reaching those most vulnerable.
As well as those in power, we all have a role to play in tackling isolation including the voluntary sector which is doing some brilliant work in exceptional circumstances. When thinking about writing this blog, I saw a tweet from Down’s Syndrome Scotland sharing a calendar of activities for December with a picture of a group of people smiling and having fun together on Zoom: keeping people together online during what will be an especially tough month to be apart in person.
As we all drag ourselves into winter, let’s listen to the people who know what it’s like to be Lonely and Left Behind, and do all we can to make sure people don’t have to face winter alone.