Loneliness is physically and mentally debilitating, and it is now thought to be as bad for our health and wellbeing as obesity. It is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time and it affects people of all ages.

One of the groups most known to suffer with loneliness is older people, and in East Sussex we have a much higher than average number of older people. More than two million in England live alone, and over a million of them go a month without speaking to a friend, family member or neighbour*. Illness, reduced mobility, caring for a sick partner, friends and family passing away, stopping driving and retirement can all sadly make loneliness and isolation much worse. But it’s not just older people who get lonely.

It might surprise you to know that a recent study by the Office of National Statistics found young people aged 16 to 24 are actually the age group most at risk of isolation and loneliness. And 40% of 16 to 24 year olds often feel lonely, according to another study of 55,000 people by the BBC and the Wellcome Trust. Surprisingly or not, both studies suggested that social media is considered to be one of the issues. Although it may seem to bring people together, it stops face-to-face communication, it’s easy to misread a quick post or photo, and being able to look into other people’s carefully filtered lives 24/7 can leave others feeling very alone.

Other groups identified as most likely to feel lonely and isolated are widowed or divorced adults, those suffering from illness or poor health, carers and people who don’t feel very involved in their local community**.

If you are lonely, or you want to help someone who is, the most important thing is human interaction and communication. It can be daunting and you may feel shy, but here are some tips to help you:

• Join or set up a group (sport, craft, support, voluntary)
• Talk to somebody (make a phone call, write a letter or just get chatting on the bus)
• Don’t believe what you see on social media!
• Keep busy and get out and about as much as you can (if you can)
• Join a befriending or good neighbour scheme
• Help others (volunteer or help a friend or neighbour)

If you are looking for a new activity or a way to meet new people then the East Sussex Community Information Service (ESCIS) is a fantastic, free and easy way to find clubs, societies and groups in your area. From table tennis to knit and natter groups, choirs, craft groups, health walks, dementia cafes, University of the Third Age, lunch clubs and cycling groups – there really is something for everyone. There are more than 7,000 entries so why not have a look and start a new activity this winter? ESCIS also has events listings so is a great way to find one-off activities locally.

If you run a club, group or society, you can be listed free of charge on the ESCIS website.

*statistics from Age UK
**Office of National Statistics