We're delighted to have a guest blog from Marmalade Trust supporter Ruby Clarkson all about spotting the first signs of loneliness in your family and friends. Of course, each individual is different, and loneliness affects us all differently, but by being aware of some of the most common visible signs of loneliness, we might be able to provide our loved ones with the support they need.
There are several common reasons for people feeling lonely – especially as they come into older age, including losing friends and loved ones, being less mobile and it being more difficult to get out and about, or more difficulty in doing hobbies that they have once enjoyed.
Loneliness is not only a problem for the elderly, however, it can happen to anyone, so it is important that we are all aware of it and can spot the early signs of loneliness amongst our loved ones. By being aware of the signs we can begin to help them to deal with it.
Sharing our experiences is a great way to build awareness of loneliness, as once we become more transparent and increase our understanding of it, we feel more connected with others. Marmalade Trust's mission is to create a society where our feelings are acknowledged, knowing that support is there when we need it.
Loneliness can lead to mental health issues such as low mood and anxiety so it is important that we can help people who feel lonely as soon as we can. By reaching out to family and friends, we normalise their feelings and place ourselves one step closer towards a more open world.
One of the tell-tale signs of loneliness is changes in sleep patterns. This might be sleeping more or sleeping less, feeling more tired than usual, or less tired than usual. Broken sleep patterns are also a sign – if your loved one struggles to sleep through the night, for example. Sleeping can be a good reflection of how somebody is spending their day and a great indicator of loneliness.
We all know how it feels to eat because we are bored and changes in eating habits can also be a sign that someone is feeling lonely. They could be over-eating or under-eating, but both of these are linked closely to depression.
If you notice that your loved one is gaining or losing weight, these are also strong signs. Often people who are feeling lonely or have low mood won’t want to cook or lose their appetite for food – and other things in life.
It is common for those people who are feeling lonely to try to substitute human interaction with ‘things'. This means that they will often spend money on ‘unnecessary’ things to fill the void that is created by loneliness – and this could be a sign of loneliness, especially if this is a change to normal.
Most of us have a routine when it comes to communication. A lot of us might phone family members on our way to work, whilst on our lunch break, or visit on a Saturday morning, for example. A sign of loneliness and low mood is a lack of willingness to communicate and so you might notice an inconsistency in communication patterns.
Telephoning more or less frequently is an obvious sign that your friend or relative could be feeling lonely.
This also applies to going out. If you notice that your loved one is less eager to go out and socialise, or, likewise looking to go out more than normal, this is a sign that they could be feeling lonely.
Our physical and mental health are closely linked, and it is often the case that if you are struggling with loneliness or low mood, your physical health will also suffer. If you have noticed that your loved one is continuously ill, getting colds, or other physical illnesses, more frequently and taking longer to get rid of them, then this could be another sign that they are feeling lonely.
Science suggests that our immune systems are stronger when we are happy – so if that’s not a reason to stay as happy as possible, I don’t know what is!
Helping with loneliness
One of the main points to consider when it comes to loneliness is that it’s not always about being surrounded by people. It is about making meaningful connections with someone who understands you, who you connect with. If you have noticed some of these signs in a friend or relative, there are several things that you can do to try and help.
Encourage them to go out – even if it is just to the local shop
Encourage them to use telephones or the internet to communicate with their friends and companions
Create a communication routine so that they know when you will be telephoning or calling in
Encourage hobbies and getting them involved in local groups like lunch clubs, the WI, U3A, or historical societies
Book events into the diary to give them something to look forward to
Encourage them to get in touch with their GP if loneliness is having an impact on their mental health.
Helping our loved ones to keep loneliness at bay is an important job and it is an issue that we all need to take seriously. By being able to look out for the signs, we can be more aware of it and ensure that they are happier and healthier in their lives.
Helping Hands | Mind | Royal Voluntary Service | The Women’s Institute | U3A