Charity wants government action
Plans to tackle loneliness this winter are being urged as polling reveals the issue has had a negative impact on the mental health of a third of people in Scotland.
The call comes as the British Red Cross publishes a new report Lonely and Left Behind: Tackling Loneliness at a Time of Crisis, which offers the most detailed study yet of the impact coronavirus is having on people’s loneliness.
It includes the day-to-day experiences of 16 people from across the UK who were shielding or isolating immediately after the first lockdown period.
Alongside the results, new polling shows that in Scotland some 22% worry something will happen to them and no one will notice while 28% say their neighbours are like strangers to them.
The poll also found 29% say they haven’t had a meaningful conversation with someone in a fortnight; and that 28% of people in Scotland are concerned that their loneliness will get worse.
The main body of evidence in the report – a combination of in-depth, one-to-one interviews and diary entries completed between 22 July and 1 September 2020 – paints a rich picture of the challenges faced by people who have had very limited contact with others for a number of months – the boredom, low mood, creeping “bad habits” and loneliness.
The report also touches on other key considerations – worries about money, the loss of a job, caring and parenting responsibilities – and shows that, not only are some people feeling lonelier than ever, they don’t always know what to do to get help.
British Red Cross Scotland director Marie Hayes said: “We know that increasing numbers of people are feeling left behind and lonelier than ever.
“The easing and tightening of lockdown rules has been especially difficult for those experiencing loneliness, with many feeling uncertain about what is to come. The combination of colder and shorter days, and changes to restrictions mean that swift action is needed to avoid a loneliness emergency this winter.
“Our new report shows that loneliness is having a negative impact on people’s mental health across Scotland. Many feel cut off and like their problems aren’t important, which leaves people unable to think of anything that might improve their situation.
“It’s not too late to tackle loneliness this winter and the Scottish Government should take action to make sure people have the help they need. Simple steps, like ensuring someone knows about different ways to connect, and making sure new technology reaches the most vulnerable would go a long way.”
Despite the easing of restrictions over the summer, some did not feel comfortable leaving their homes and watching others resume their social lives made these people feel ‘left behind’. Further lockdowns and winter risk entrenching feelings of loneliness. People are concerned that more lockdowns will bring them back to ‘square one’ and are worried about their ability to cope.
The charity has now written to the First Minister calling for further investment in services tackling loneliness, raise awareness of alternative ways for people to connect with each other this winter, and support local authorities and health systems to identify and address those most at risk.