New report highlights dangers of loneliness, as restrictions ramp up
“Being able to share your thoughts with someone else who’s non-judgmental is such a help to me,” reveals Stuart Arfield.
“A couple of years ago, I lost one of my closest friends to cancer and my marriage fell apart all within a few months.
"It was a very difficult time, and I had severe depression which completely caught me out; I lost myself.”
Stuart, then aged 59, came across a leaflet in his local doctor’s surgery for ‘Age Better in Sheffield’ – a National Lottery community fund programme – and decided to get in touch.
One of the schemes offered by the programme, and provided by Sheffield Mind, is the Wellbeing Practitioners programme.
The programme offers 1,600 counselling sessions a year for people aged 50 and over in Sheffield, with an emphasis on encouraging people who might not normally access psychological support to take part.
The sessions take place in people’s homes or in other community venues, and the team accepts referrals from GPs and community mental health teams, as well self-referrals.
Stuart, now aged 61, says: “I started my series of 24 counselling sessions with Joe through the Wellbeing Practitioners project.
“Every week I picked a subject to unload and, bit by bit, I could feel that I was piecing myself back together again.
"I’ve still got a way to go, but things are so much more positive now – I’ve got my mojo back.”
Throughout October, The Star is running its ‘Mental Health: In Conversation’ series, to encourage people to talk openly about their own mental health experiences, and to start conversations with family or friends they think may be struggling.
Earlier this month, a national charity, The Campaign to End Loneliness, published a new report calling for urgent action across the UK, to better address the critical issue of loneliness.
The call comes as the results of a UK-wide survey highlights the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having, by amplifying the experience of loneliness.
As the ongoing restrictions reduce access to vital services, the new research reveals that 65 per cent of those surveyed are concerned about people aged 65 or older being lonely, while 59 per cent fear they won’t be able to see family and friends during the upcoming festive period.
The report highlights the impact of chronic loneliness on older people, and provides a framework for how to tackle loneliness, as well as examples of services - including Sheffield Mind’s Wellbeing Practitioners - doing that in practice.
Kate Shurety, executive director at The Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “If the issue is not adequately addressed in every UK community, we are concerned that there could be a time-bomb being set that will impact more broadly on mental and physical health services.
"Pre-Covid-19, it is estimated that there was 1.2 million older people already experiencing chronic loneliness.
"With ongoing restrictions affecting people’s ability to meet up with friends and family, our poll suggests millions more are struggling with feelings of loneliness.
“There is not a one size fits all approach to reducing chronic loneliness, but our report illustrates how, when used together, effective services and interventions can help make a real difference to many people’s lives in every community.”