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How to get help for loneliness

Most people who feel lonely want to increase the quality or quantity of contact with other people. Here are some good ways to tackle feelings of loneliness.
8 min read
In this article
Spending time outside the home Getting online Making new friends in local groups The University of the Third Age Volunteering
Changing living arrangements Befriending services Animal companions Loneliness caused by mental health problems

Spending time outside the home

A change of scenery can improve your mood and help to alleviate feelings of loneliness – even if it’s as simple as a trip to the shops or a walk in the local park. If you still drive, you could plan a day trip to the coast or the countryside, and you may find other friends would happily join you.

 

Alternatively, investigate local coach or train companies who may offer a programme of day trips. People who are disabled may be able to get help with mobility, and if you no longer drive, take a look at our alternatives to driving.

Getting online

Computers can open up a whole new world of social interaction. For example, you could use a video chat program like Skype or FaceTime to chat with friends and family who live far away.

 

Skype or FaceTime allow you to keep in touch via a computer of mobile phone without the worry of running up large telephone bills, because they use the internet instead. The added bonus is that you can see the people you’re talking to (you’ll need to add a webcam if you're using a computer that doesn’t have a built-in camera). Find tips on using Skype to make free calls on the Which? Computing Helpdesk.

 

WhatsApp is a popular online messaging app that you can use to keep in regular contact with friends or family on a mobile phone or tablet. WhatsApp allows you to set up groups of family members or friends to share messages, pictures and videos with over the internet – and you can even use it to make free voice or video calls.

 

Facebook or other online social networking services can be a good way to renew contact with old friends. As well as having a personal profile, there are also many specialist groups on Facebook, where only members can read and contribute to group posts. This means you can enjoy conversations together about a subject you're interested in without worrying about this being shared on your public Facebook page. For example, if you enjoy gardening, the Which? Gardening Facebook group is a great way to chat online with others about plants and gardening. 

Which? Gardening
The Which? Gardening Facebook group is a friendly place to chat about plants and gardening.

You may also enjoy playing online games, either as a solitary activity or with other people.

 

Which? Conversation is another online community hosted by Which? that anyone can join to discuss the consumer and lifestyle issues that matter most to you, from money and shopping to travel and health.

 

Take a look at a conversation about loneliness started by Esther Rantzen.

Making new friends in local groups

It’s never too late to make new friends and there are lots of ways to meet people.

 

Joining a local club or group can be a good way of combating feelings of loneliness. You might consider joining a local club to do something that you already enjoy, such as bridge, bowls or walking. Or you might want to join a class to explore a new hobby, such as art, creative writing, learning a new language or photography. Many local schools and colleges offer part-time courses for adults, and older people often get reduced rates.

 

One of the advantages of this kind of activity is that you’ll often find you have plenty in common with the other participants, even if you don't know anyone in the group before you join.

Joining a local club or group can be a good way of combating feelings of loneliness.

If you’re in good health, you could take part in a fitness class, such as yoga, Pilates, aerobics or Zumba. Many leisure centres offer exercise classes especially for older people, which are low impact and often have reduced prices. Fitness classes are a good way to make new friends, increase social interaction and keep active. Before you join a fitness class, always check with your GP that the particular form of exercise is suitable for you. Good fitness instructors will always ask you about your health when you attend your first class, too.

 

The internet is also a great tool for finding out about local groups and clubs that might be of interest – and this can help you to become more social offline as well as online. If you’re not confident with computers it might be worth doing a course. Lots of libraries, local authorities and adult education centres run courses for adults, or specifically for ‘silver surfers’. Find your local authority’s website page to find out what's on offer in your area.

Contact the Elderly is a charity working to end loneliness among older people in the UK, and holds regular free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over 75 years of age and who live alone. It collects people from their homes and takes them to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon. Or you might consider attending a local day care centre as a way of socialising and making new friends.

 

The University of the Third Age

 

The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a self-help organisation for people who are no longer in full-time work or raising a family. They provide educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment, through a network of local branches run by volunteers across the UK. 

 

Local U3A groups are run entirely by their members – so as well as taking part in classes and leisure activities, members can also get involved in organising events and sharing their knowledge and experience with others. Courses can cover a wide range of interests – anything from studying history to learning the ukulele. There are over 1,000 branches across the UK and the movement is growing. 

 

Contact U3A for more information and to find local groups.

 

Volunteering

 

If you’re still quite active and mobile, you might like to volunteer for a local charity. Most high streets have charity shops and you may be able to help out for a few hours a week. You’ll be able to meet new people and keep busy, while helping others at the same time.

 

Other options might include volunteering at a local Citizens Advice service, or helping at the local hospital or animal shelter. You can search for volunteering opportunities in your area at:

Changing living arrangements

Many people start to feel lonely if they think they are ‘rattling around’ in a large house that has become too big for their needs, so it may be time to consider downsizing from a family home with too many unused rooms.

 

There are several other options too, such as sheltered housing, a retirement village or a complex of flats specially designed for independent living but with communal areas where you can meet for social events.

 

Or, if your health has become a worry for you, you may also want to consider a move to a care home. Such a move could bring a whole new set of opportunities for getting to know people of a similar age. You can find out about the alternative living arrangements in our dedicated section on housing options.

Befriending services

Several charities offer befriending services, where an older person is assigned a ‘friend’ who will contact them on a regular basis to provide friendly chat and companionship. Befrienders are volunteers. They can call you on the phone at a set time each week, or visit you at home for, say, a cup of tea or to go out for a walk together. You could even become a ‘befriender’ to another older person who wants someone to chat to.

 

Age UK provides information, advice and support for older people, including local befriending schemes.

Age UK

Age UK helps with the challenges you face in later life. Its vision is to make the UK a great place to grow older by inspiring, supporting and enabling in a number of ways.

ageuk.org.uk

For the Age UK advice line and befriending service, call:

0800 055 6112

Every day, 8am–7pm, including bank holidays

 

Esther Rantzen’s charity The Silver Line is a free, confidential 24-hour phone line for older people offering information and friendship. You can call at any time for advice, information or simply a chat. The charity also offers a befriending service. Silver Circles are conference calls for several like-minded people who would like to chat in a group. Silver Letters is for people who like to write and receive hand-written letters, or may be hearing impaired.

The Silver Line

A free confidential telephone helpline offering information, friendship and advice to older people in the UK that's available 24 hours a day.

thesilverline.org.uk

Helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people:

0800 470 8090

24 hours a day, every day of the year

 

Independent Age also has a helpline and befriending service.

Independent Age

As well as offering regular contact and a strong campaigning voice, the charity provides older people and their families with clear, free and impartial advice on the issues that matter: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility.

independentage.org

Call the Independent Age helpline or email advice@independentage.org for advice or to receive regular phone calls or visits.

0800 319 6789

Mon–Fri, 8am–8pm; Sat, 9am–1pm; closed Sun and public holidays

Use our directory to find support groups for carers and people living with dementia.

Animal companions

 

If you’re able to look after a pet, this can provide a much-loved companion. Dog walking could help you to get out and about, and potentially meet new people. Taking care of a pet can lift people’s spirits, making them feel more positive and in control. Just ensure that you’re aware of basic safety issues, such as walking in well-lit places and not going anywhere too remote – always take a mobile phone with you. 

 

If you’re unable to have your own pet, you might like to volunteer at a local animal rescue centre. For a list of local rescue centres, visit the Support Adoption For Pets website.

Loneliness caused by mental health problems

If you are caring for someone and you think their loneliness is caused by underlying mental health issues or depression, rather than their individual circumstances, encourage them to visit their GP for advice. Their GP might offer medication or refer them to a counsellor.

 

You can find details of counsellors from the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

 

There are other national charities and organisations that provide free advice and support over the phone or via email.

 

The Samaritans

The Samaritans provides 24-hour support for anyone having a difficult time.

The Samaritans

Whatever you're going through, you can call the Samaritans free any time, from any phone on:

116 123

 

Mind

Charity offering advice and support to anyone with a mental health problem, including how to cope with caring. 

mind.org.uk

Mind offers an online community called Elefriends.

Further reading

Causes of loneliness

Older people can be particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and isolation. We explain why you may be affected.

Possible health consequences

Loneliness can make you miserable, and it can even lead to serious problems, such as depression or alcoholism.

Taking exercise

Find out more about how to stay active and healthy in older age, with advice on doing gentle home exercise.

Last updated: 25 Apr 2019