Many of us are quite happy with our own company, a lot of the time. And even more of us often prefer animals to humans! But on a serious note, England is just one of many modern countries, where loneliness is a serious issue, not just for millions of people feeling isolated and lonely and depressed. But there is proof that loneliness can also lead to shorter lives.
In his book Healthy at 100, John Robbins writes of the four longest-lived cultures on earth: in the Andes of Chile, on a Japanese Island, in Pakistan and a place in Russia. This fascinating book revealed that not only does everyone eat pure food with no pollution, they also work till the day they die. They all have faith (no-one knew what an atheist was, even though there are fewer churches). But most of all – there is no loneliness. If you have an old relative who needs to move in with an adult child, the siblings fight it out to see who CAN have them (not being chosen to be the carer, is seen as a sign of disgrace).
How One Town Healed Through Community
The Compassion Project is the lovely story of a small town in Somerset (Frome). Local people and healthcare professionals got together to create a community of kindness, where nobody felt lonely. Through daily mindful acts of care, they achieved a ground-shaking powder, that if it came in tablet form, would be hailed as a wonder of modern medicine.
Rather than focusing on obesity, smoking and drinking – they focused on creating supportive networks to build companionship and values into the network of everyone (helping with shopping, cooking, cleaning, looking after gardens and pets, providing lifts etc). From choirs to walking groups, and from mens’ ‘shed groups’ to talking cafes. The result? When emergency admissions rose by 30% in the same county, they reduced by 15% in Frome, which also helped to reduce NHS costs by millions, at a time when the money was needed most.
Today so many politicians campaign for ‘more hospital beds’. But of course, not many people ask why so many are needed in the first place. Not many countries in the East have aisles of older people with dementia or arthritis or cancer or heart disease.
A survey found that 500,000 older people go almost an entire week without seeing or talking to anyone, with over half of people age over 85 live alone, saying the TV is their main company. And considering most TV these days is junk with people shouting drivel from the screen, it’s not much fun for them.
Become a volunteer dog walker. Many older lonely people have pets for company, and this enables them to make like-minded friends who can take out their dogs for walks (and look after other pets), also providing a safeguard if they have to go into hospital (or you can be a pet taxi).
Install a Friendly Bench
The NHS website is not very helpful. It says to phone 111 if you feel depressed (or call the Samaritans if you feel very depressed) and ‘go visit a park to see people’ (great if you have a park, though often you won’t find anyone to talk to you). Some towns have a ‘happy to chat’ bench where if you feel lonely you can sit on and wait for people to come talk to you. But this is not very effective as it makes both the sitter and others feel awkward.
A much better idea is to install friendly benches that are specially designed (a bit like modular sofas) to encourage good conversation. They are safe and accessible, a bit like mini-community gardens with flowers (use pet-safe plants, to keep dogs safe) to offer a nice regular meeting point for people to chat, connect with nature and build friendships and a sense of belonging.
Where to Find Nice New Friends!
Many people enjoy their own company, but others (especially people who are older and disabled) may sometimes enjoy the company of a good friend now and then, especially if they have been bereaved or moved to a new area. Here are some places to help (follow safety tips, if meeting new people).
- Together Friends is a site where women can make new friends to meet up in person, or chat online. Set up by a mother and daughter, this site focuses on the outdoor natural life, and puts you in touch with like-minded women in the same area, who share your interests. It’s not a dating site, simply a friendship site based on location, age and interests. You can find a friend to go dog walking, have coffee with, go to the theatre or find a travel companion. Ideal for people who have moved to new areas, or are recently bereaved or separated/divorced. You may just find that person to set up an organic gardening business with, visit pottery class or climb a mountain.
- Natural Friends is a friendship and/or dating site, whichever you prefer. This site caters to people who love nature, walks in the countryside, animals, strolls on the beach and cycling. Browse the site to find members.
- Veganuary lists local groups for vegans, if you feel a bit isolated in a world of people who eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. If you’re the only plant-eater in your village or town, here you can find like-minded new friends to chat with, and of course go out to dinner with!
- The Silver Line Helpline is a free telephone service where people who are older and lonely, can call for a 30-minute chat with a friendly volunteer. The service is available for anyone over 60 with a phone who can hear and be understood and commit to a regular call at the same time each week. It also offers group calls for older people who share a maritime or Royal Air Force background. They are very busy due to lack of volunteers, so if you like to chat, you know who to call to offer your services!