Lonely at Christmas: Why millions suffer alone in the festive period and how you can help

26 December 2021, 09:19

A simple phone call could help someone at Christmas.
A simple phone call could help someone at Christmas. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Over one million people are expected to be alone this Christmas and the issue is going to be made worse this year due to Covid-19. Here LBC looks at the reasons why, and what people can do to help.

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For many people, Christmas is a time to come together with loved ones and celebrate the festive season.

However, for others, it is the time of year where they find themselves alone the most, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

Over a million people are estimated to be on their own this year due to Covid, with the Omicron variant causing increased concern over its transmissibility.

Read more: Covid self-isolation period cut from 10 days to seven in bid to save Christmas

Read more: 'Go ahead with your plans': Boris Johnson confirms no new Covid restrictions for Christmas

Michael turned to Age UK's phone service at Christmas.
Michael turned to Age UK's phone service at Christmas. Picture: Age UK

However, Covid is not the only reason people could be left on their own, with the elderly being largely affected every year.

Research from Age UK has found that 1.4 million older people were expecting to feel lonely this Christmas, resulting in high numbers feeling depressed and anxious.

The charity has organised a Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign to help deliver a telephone service for those who need it most.

Michael, 71, is one of many who has benefitted from speaking to Age UK's Gemma via the Telephone Friendship Service.

He said: “Loneliness is devastating. It feels like having a prison sentence for 30 or 40 years - you've got no one to talk to or say anything to.

“Because of Covid, the past year or so has been even more devastating.

"I couldn't get out and about and if I didn't have Gemma I would be going spare. I always look forward to my call with her when Friday comes around, she is a diamond.

“Christmas, for me, is like being in a lockdown, so being able to speak to Gemma at this time of year makes such a difference, just having somebody at the end of the line who cares."

To volunteer for Age UK you can visit their site.

Samaritans has also launched a Christmas campaign - Be A Samaritans Christmas Star - in a bid to help those in need over the festive period.

They ensure listening volunteers are on-hand to respond to hundred of thousands of calls.

Stephanie, 33, from Kent, phoned Samaritans regularly just after Christmas 2015 when she was really struggling.

"Christmas always felt like a particularly difficult time. One year on Christmas Eve, it all got too much and I tried to take my life. I woke up the next day feeling very unwell, but I got dressed and went to visit my family for Christmas. I became good at putting on a front."

She explained: "I look back at the pictures and I’m smiling, but I wasn’t ok at all. That feeling built up and spilled over into the New Year. I didn’t know who to speak to, so one night I called Samaritans and let everything out.

"I remember feeling embarrassed and it took me a long time to get everything out. I am so thankful to that volunteer. He saved my life that night. I realised I didn’t want to die. I just didn't want to hurt anymore."

To volunteer for Samaraitans you can visit their site.

Stephanie called Samaritans at Christmas when she needed help.
Stephanie called Samaritans at Christmas when she needed help. Picture: Abbie Trayler-Smith

There are many reasons why someone is alone at Christmas - as mental health charity Mind points out - with the pandemic potentially leading to bereavement, grief for lost opportunities, pressure and expectations, to name just a few.

Mind's Head of Information, Stephen Buckley, has shared some advice on the best way to support those on their own:

  • Reach out. "You might not be able to see them in person – but even a call, email or text can be a big help. You could ask them how regularly they’d like to hear from you and when is the best time of the day or night to contact them."
  • Don't be afraid to ask how they are. "Let them know you understand Christmas can be difficult, especially this year, and you're there for them. They might want to talk about it, or they might not. But just letting them know they don't have to avoid the issue with you is important. If they do open, listen to what they say, and accept their feelings."
  • Try to accept how they are feeling. "Whatever your intentions, these aren't usually helpful things to hear. For example, try to avoid saying things like 'but Christmas is supposed to be a happy time' or 'you could enjoy yourself if you tried.' "It may also help to avoid saying things like 'there are people who have it worse'."
  • Try not to take it personally if they choose not to join in. "It may feel disappointing, but it doesn't mean they don't care about you. There is no 'normal' response to this pandemic, they may be feeling anxious or stressed about socialising at the moment. They aren't trying to spoil Christmas. No one chooses to find things hard."