"Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be especially challenging during the festive season," says Stephen Buckley, head of information for mental health charity Mind. “The expectation of happiness that comes with Christmas can also amplify any negative feelings that people may already have.”
So, how best to help people – old or young – whom we know will be isolated over the festive period? Charities, doctors and others have shared their tips for helping people at risk of loneliness this Christmas, and it couldn't be easier to have a big impact on someone's day by doing something small.
Chat to your neighbours and/or strangers
This won't sound revolutionary to anyone outside big cities like London, but having a meaningful conversation with your neighbours can go a long way. According to Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, this means: "Not just saying ‘hi’ or waving to the neighbour but actually saying ‘how are you doing, how are things going?’ Having a little chat. Checking in on people in more than a trivial way."
This can easily be done while going about your day, as the Campaign to End Loneliness highlights: "You could be doing your shop at the supermarket, at the pub or out for a walk." You could even spark a conversation by knocking on their door and handing them a Christmas card.
Pick up the phone
Easing a friend or family member's solitude can be helped by giving them a call, charities say: a ten-minute phone call can have a big impact. "Simply ringing or visiting older family members or friends to let them know you’re thinking of them can make a huge difference to their lives," said Paul Goulden, CEO of Age UK London.
Making a flying visit
If you've got a million and one Christmas commitments already, you don't need to block out hours to see someone you're worried about. As well as picking up the phone, Goulden also recommends "taking meals around to them or offering to help with Christmas shopping and present wrapping." Equally, you could help them take down their tree and decorations once the holiday is over.
Doing so could benefit you both, suggested Teresa Owen, director of Public Health at BCUHB, a local health board in north Wales. "Checking in on somebody who may be feeling lonely and isolated at this time of year will not only help them feel less alone, but also give your own wellbeing a boost too."
Spare a chair
If your family or friend group will have a spare chair at the dinner table (and the host is game), invite someone over for Christmas dinner, suggests the Campaign to End Loneliness. The same goes for if you're hosting a party or other get-together over the festive period. "Don’t forget to invite the neighbours. If there’s anyone in your community who might be alone, send them an invite. The more the merrier!"
If someone turns down your invitation though, don't take it personally. "If they decline, it might be because they’re feeling too anxious about big events, so don’t feel disheartened or critical of their decision," said Buckley, from Mind.
Tell them about local events
If you know someone has no Christmas plans and they've indicated that they want to change this, point them in the direction of events in the local community. One pub in Wimbledon, southwest London, for example, offers a free Christmas lunch to lonely people who would otherwise spend the festive period alone. Landlords of The Alexandra, Mick and Sarah Dore, served 62 roasts last year and are aiming for 100 in 2018, but told The Independent that the trickiest part "is [getting] people to come out of the house in the first place”.
Schools and post offices across the UK will also be offering Christmas dinner to families and pensioners who may otherwise be isolated and miss out. The Big Christmas Get-Together in Frome, Somerset, will take place in a school and provide food, transport, gifts and entertainment to more than 100 people struggling with loneliness and financial hardship this Christmas, the Mail reported. Look online for similar events happening in your area and pass the information on.