Contact the Elderly is a national charity which organises monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over 75 who live alone with little or no support from family and friends. One Sunday afternoon a month, volunteers use their car to take older members to and from a volunteer host's home for tea, cake and companionship, and hosts take it in turn to welcome the small group of older people and volunteer drivers into their home for a few hours. These Sunday afternoon tea parties are a lifeline of friendship bringing older people and volunteers together for an afternoon of stories, laughter and conversation. Over 4,800 people are now registered as Contact the Elderly Volunteers.
When the Mental Health Foundation published their report "The Lonely Society"on Tuesday 25th May, one older lady who is now a member of Contact the Elderly was interviewed by the BBC to show that there is something to be done about loneliness. Lillian is 89 and lives alone in sheltered accommodation. She has just joined the local Contact the Elderly group. She says: "I get depressed sometimes and I know I have to fight it, but not everyone is able to do that." Lillian has lived in her home for 15 years, and is very active organising activities for the other residents. "There are days where I don't see anyone. Not even outside my windows and that worries me a great deal. Sometime I go and sit outside just to see people walking past, and that helps me not feeling lonely." Sundays were a particular lonely time for Lillian, as there weren't any services available in her area on that day, so she is pleased she has now joined the local group and look forward to get to know the group better.
In their report the Mental Health Foundation comment that although many of us experience loneliness at one time or another, this feeling of loneliness is often overlooked or dismissed. Because our society prides itself on self-reliance, loneliness might carry a stigma for people who admit to it. This means that if loneliness is transient, we simply accept it as part of life, but we have a deep dread of being lonely for the long haul. In life, it is not uncommon to feel lonely at one time or another, but when experienced for a long time, loneliness can be detrimental to our well-being. The Mental Health Foundation found in the course of writing their report that one in ten people in Britain often felt lonely, and just under half of those interviewed thought that people were becoming lonelier in general because of the stresses of modern life. The Society also found that four in ten people have felt depressed because they felt alone. They have concluded that intervention at an early stage could prevent chronic isolation and have called for the commissioning of peer support schemes for people at risk of isolation and good neighbour schemes that encourage neighbours to engage proactively with people at risk of isolation.
By raising awareness of loneliness the Mental Health Foundation hope to tackle the stigma that surrounds it, and help individuals who are feeling lonely to connect with others. Their website offers contacts for a range of organisations that may be able to help.