Posted ABC News: Emilia Terzon
For many people Christmas is a time of joy, friendship and family.
But a Red Cross national survey has found for nearly one-in-four Australians loneliness is a regular part of their lives. Making December a month of anything but cheer for many.
According to Red Cross spokeswoman Isabel Stankiewicz loneliness or social isolation can strike anyone, at any time.
“Loneliness does not discriminate whether you are sleeping rough or sleeping in the penthouse — loneliness can touch you,” she said.
Reasons for loneliness
- Death of loved one — 34 per cent
- Moving from friends/family — 31 per cent
- Isolation at school or work — 22 per cent
- Divorce or separation — 21 per cent
- Losing a job — 17 per cent
Source: Australian Red Cross Loneliness Survey 2017
“It might be you have left your job, lost a loved one, having a baby, it is these vulnerable times loneliness can attack.”
The Australian Red Cross Loneliness Survey, conducted by Mevcorp, looked at 1,015 people aged 18 and over in cities and regional areas across the nation.
It found 7 per cent feel lonely all the time, while 16 per cent were lonely “quite often”.
Regional Manager Janeen Miesch said a third of people reported feeling alone “sometimes”. “It is a growing number and loneliness really hits at times when people are most vulnerable.”
In a dark place
Suffering in silence is how widow Sheree Bull describes it. She became socially isolated after her partner Brendan Marken died in June, 2016.
“I was in a dark place. He was everything to me. I really was not coping with the loss,” she said. “I went 12 months without being game to sit in the hairdresser chair because I did not want to see my face in the mirror.
“I could not go out to eat because I’d end up getting anxiety attacks. It was really scary.
“I just wanted to be in my own space and did not want to see anybody.”
Rockhampton single mum Christie Brown fell into the depths of despair when her marriage broke up after 18 years. “It just hit me. I did not see it coming,” she said. “People tell me I am a strong person but I wear a mask. “When I am at home especially at night time stuff like that it is very lonely.”
The women have become firm friends since both finally seeking help through Red Cross. They joined a local neighbourhood centre and take part in activities like arts and crafts.
“Just being here everyone is fighting the black dog of depression,” Ms Brown said. “I class everyone here as family now. They are awesome.”
Ms Bull said she now feels needed and wanted by socialising at the drop in centre. “I wanted to get to a better spot, be in a better place,” she said.
From desolation to exultation
Retiree Robert Morgan says he is not surprised the survey found so many people suffer alone at home. Both his parents died 40 years ago when he was just 19. He never married and has no next of kin. “I ended up in a rooming house,” he said.
Five ways to feel less lonely
- Meet your neighbours
- Say hello to someone new in your neighbourhood
- Check on someone who may be in trouble
- Be kind on social media
“Felt very insecure. There was no-one to reach out too. It was very isolating. A lot of people say being a man, ‘man up’. [I’m] not suppose to feel emotion … but this sadness comes over you.
“If you go around to all the pubs I guarantee there will be five guys there who are totally alone and their best friend is the bar man.”
The 67-year-old finally got the courage to volunteer at a Red Cross charity shop and has not looked back.
“To see others happy makes me feel happy,” he said. “I have gone from feeling desolation to exultation. That is it. Both ends of the spectrum.”