What is the true meaning of Christmas? Most would probably say togetherness, companionship, family. But for many disabled people and carers, social isolation and loneliness are an ever-present reality and these negative feelings are even more painfully acute at Christmas time.
Worse still, in the past few weeks a study published by the Royal College of GPs stated that feeling lonely can be as damaging as having a chronic health condition. This is a shocking revelation, demonstrating that loneliness is not only emotionally draining but can have serious physical effects too.
Revitalise guest Lesley Mathews, who we profile in our 2017 Christmas Appeal, told us about her life and how social isolation affects her. Lesley lives alone. Her only immediate family is her daughter Chelsea, who is training to be a teacher.
Lesley is content to sacrifice some of her own needs to enable Chelsea to fulfil her dreams, but in the process often finds herself feeling isolated and lonely. This is where Revitalise comes into the story, by providing the human contact and social interaction that helps Lesley ward off the worst effects of the isolation she sometimes feels. Lesley told us:
“Chelsea is so important to me. I want her to have her own life, a good life. If she’s happy, I’m happy. She visits me when she can but she knows I want her to focus on her career. I’m so proud of her.
Since becoming a wheelchair user I realise that there are so many things I can’t do any more, so many things I miss. There’s no denying I do feel isolated a lot of the time. Without Revitalise in my life I think I’d get very bored and probably very lonely too.
I first heard about Revitalise back in 2011. Now I’m a regular. I prefer to go to Netley, because of the location. When I look out over Southampton Water it reminds of when I used to go sailing with my dad – such happy times…
I don’t get out much any more so the excursions are very welcome. I’m booked into Netley in December and intend to do all my Christmas shopping when I’m there! But it’s the social aspect that’s most important to me, the chance to meet up with old friends.”
Of course Revitalise is doing its bit by providing opportunities for people to catch up with old friends and forge new friendships, not just at Christmas but all year round. But, as the population ages and traditional family structures fragment, the problem of social isolation and loneliness will only increase.
Now that we know just how dangerous loneliness can sometimes be, we as a society must redouble our efforts to ensure that nobody, no matter what their circumstance, is left feeling isolated and lonely.
Written by Colin Brook.