The isolation of loneliness

Ruth Sutherland 

Here I share my journey at Samaritans, keeping you informed of the important work of our staff and volunteers, challenging perceptions and asking tough questions.

I welcome all your views and questions so please do leave your comments below.

You can also find me tweeting: @SamaritansRuth

We’ve all felt lonely at times - the breakdown of a relationship, a move to a new city or children flying the nest can all trigger a sense of loss. An overwhelming feeling that the house seems empty and the chitter chatter from the radio resembles the welcoming voice of an old friend. More often than not, these alone times pass, new friends and experiences blossom and we pick ourselves up, shake ourselves down and adjust to our new circumstances. However, that’s not the case for everyone.

This time of year can magnify feelings of loneliness and while many of us are gearing up for the holidays, excited about getting together with loved ones and exchanging gifts, for many people Christmas evokes feelings of isolation and despair.

A recent Samaritans study reveals that one in six people feel Christmas is the loneliest time of the year, with nearly a quarter of people surveyed believing their problems feel worse during the festive period.

Feelings of loneliness for those who’ve suffered a relationship breakdown can feel especially poignant at Christmas and parents who are away from their children may feel there’s no one there for them, and no one they matter to. And, whilst the negative impact of a relationship ending is not exclusive to one gender, Samaritans’ Men and Suicide Research tells us that loneliness is a key issue amongst the male population, since men tend to have fewer support networks and often rely on a partner for emotional support.

As you might expect, Christmas can prove a challenging time for older people too. Many simply don’t have any family or have relatives too far away to visit, reinforcing feelings of isolation that can last well beyond the festive season. Our survey suggests that 1 in 15 (of all ages) have spent Christmas alone and 1 in 25 have said they’re with friends and family, when in reality they’re on their own. And for people who’ve lost a loved one, an empty place at the dining table can be an all too painful reminder of happier days gone by. 

A wide circle of friends and a large family doesn’t guarantee exemption from loneliness either. Even with family around, the pressures of living up to the picture postcard Christmas can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a sense of falling short. The demands of Christmas can lead to high emotions and things that may ordinarily seem trivial can become contentious putting a strain on everyone.  Conversely people who are going through difficulties outside of the home, compounded by a sense that everyone else is having a jolly time, might well feel alone in a crowded room, as the saying so eloquently illustrates.

Feeling connected to others is a basic human need and essential to our wellbeing. Growing evidence shows that social connections, with a partner, family, friends and work colleagues for example, can promote good health. However, the lack of supportive relationships or belief that there’s no one to turn to can lead to depression and feelings of not being able to cope.

Our helpline is open round the clock, every day and Samaritans responded to nearly 200,000* calls for help over the festive period last year. We try, in our unique way, to alleviate the pressures and strains on people during this difficult time of year. Our volunteers throughout the UK and ROI give up their time to listen and to be there for anyone struggling to cope so that no body needs to feel alone at Christmas.