High Sheriff of West Sussex looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected loneliness across the county

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected loneliness across the county and the services which are on offer to provide support.

Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:13 pm

Across the UK, almost two million older people are expecting to feel lonely this Christmas. That is more than the total number of people infected with coronavirus across the nation and is more than double last year’s figure.

In West Sussex, loneliness is well-recognised to have become an even more significant problem during the pandemic. Using the data from surveys taken by Age UK, the Jo Cox Commission and the Mental Health Foundation, it is likely that at least 50,000 adults and 20,000 17-24 years old in our county will be feeling lonely some or all of the time.

Loneliness does not discriminate in terms of age but certain groups are more at risk. The widowed and those who are carers are particularly affected as are those who have had to shield for prolonged periods of time. 50 per cent of those with a disability report being lonely and young people living in households, where the family unit is vulnerable or domestic violence is occurring, have felt especially isolated.

Some of the attendees at the High Sheriff's Tackling Loneliness Together conference

The consequences of loneliness are well-described and significant. Older people who are lonely are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression, they have an increased risk for dementia for being admitted to hospital and are 3.5 times more likely to have to move into residential care.

Vulnerability to criminal activity, such as scamming, is also a substantial problem. More than four in ten older people report being the target of a scam, but those who live on their own are 2.5 times more likely than a married couple to respond to the fraud. The impact of this trauma can prove fatal.

In the younger group, an increase in depression and social anxiety is also well described. At the recent annual meeting of the NSPCC South and Mid-Sussex Branch, it was reported that, nationally, Childline has been dealing with 19,000 counselling sessions a month during the pandemic with triple the normal number accessing its website.

As the first medical High Sheriff in West Sussex, loneliness has understandably become a major focus of my year in office. In the autumn I hosted the Tackling Loneliness Together conference which was attended by over a hundred organisations from every part of the county. By considering real case scenarios we explored afresh how all those involved in reducing the effect of loneliness can collaborate and use the available resources even more effectively.

The Time to Talk Befriending service is keeping older people connected

There is certainly a great deal on offer.

Age UK is expecting its free Telephone Friendship Service and Silver Line helpline to be very popular again over the festive season. As they say: “No one should have no one.”

More local organisations are also proving very effective. Time to Talk Befriending is a multi-award winning charity that has developed an outstanding inter-generational model to support those who are isolated in the Worthing area. For younger people, organisation such as Sussex Clubs for Young People are using the Lonely but Not Alone national campaign to raise awareness and support and the YMCA has a chaplain in Crawley, Horsham and Worthing who links up with those who feel on their own.

With the support of West Sussex County Council and the local borough and district councils, the infra-structure community action charities are working to support the many local action groups, churches and faith organisations who want to continue to reach out to the isolated.

However, all these groups and organisations depend on those who are lonely being brought to their attention. This is where all of us have a role to play because the alleviation of loneliness begins with an awareness of the possibility of loneliness, and the ‘ordinary magic’ of being good neighbours who ‘stop, listen and have a chat’.

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