The campaigner and broadcaster, Dame Esther Rantzen, has urged people from every generation in the North East to work together to fight loneliness, as the country slowly begins to emerge from lockdown.

She suffered from loneliness herself after the death of her husband, and says “It was very difficult for me to admit, because there is a real stigma which prevents people from talking about it. Since the pandemic loneliness has affected more and more people, so now we all need to reach out to each other to make sure everyone knows they are cared about and valued.”

As founder of Childline and The Silver Line, Dame Esther’s call comes as newly published research shows how loneliness affects different generations. It also reveals that many of those who regularly suffer from loneliness are reluctant to talk about it.

The data from People’s Postcode Lottery, which was compiled pre-lockdown found that loneliness is a cross-generational issue.

More than half (53%) of people in the North East feel lonely at least once a week, with more than two thirds (66%) at least once a month. Half (51%) of those that experienced loneliness didn’t tell anyone as they didn’t want to be a burden, while (42%) didn’t think anything could be done about it.

Almost a third (29%) of people in the North East admit they have not met a new person in the last six months to a year, with almost two fifths (36%) saying this was due to lack of confidence or being too shy.

Worryingly, nine out of ten people (90%) in the North East say they are not aware of support services in their area aimed at helping those who experience loneliness. This is slightly above the UK’s average of 87%.

The data also reveals a similar picture of loneliness across the UK. More than a third (39%) of 16-24-year-olds in the UK who had experienced loneliness have not told anyone about it because they didn’t want to burden others. A similar number (38%) said they were too embarrassed to speak about it.

When it comes to older generations, the research found that a fifth (20%) of 65-74-year-olds in the UK, and one in eight (15%) of over 75-year-olds, experience feelings of loneliness at least once a week.

Since lockdown began in mid-March more people are expected to be experiencing feelings of isolation, a result of the safety measures in place that limit contact with friends, family and work colleagues.

The charity The Silver Line, which operates a 24/7 helpline and telephone friendship services for lonely older people, has seen demand for its helpline increase by up to 31% since the pandemic began.

Similarly, The NSPCC’s Childline service has also counselled nearly 7,000 young people and children struggling during the pandemic, as many report how lonely they feel despite everyone being at home and households feeling chaotic.

Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of The Silver Line and Childline, said: “Loneliness can be dangerous, it damages physical and mental health, and can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. These two helplines, both supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, are perfectly placed to tackle loneliness, they are free, confidential, and offer support, The Silver Line for isolated older people, and Childline for children.

“The impact of the virus on young people has been profound, closing schools, and cutting vulnerable children off from the support of friends and teachers. Childline has received hundreds of contacts a day from young people who turn to the helpline because there is nobody else for them to confide in.

“The virus has also had a huge impact on millions of older people who have been completely isolated during lockdown. Many have told The Silver Line how anxious they have been, knowing that this vile illness is particularly dangerous in older age, and yet they too have nobody to talk to, to reassure them and allay their fears. For some, the joy of their lives is in normal times the company of their family and the friends and neighbours who visit them, so the virus separated them from the people who make their lives worth living. Loneliness is painful at any age. Whatever our age, the truth is that we humans need each other.”

The players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised £5.5million over the past year for 32 charities working to tackle loneliness – including Children North East and Daisy Chain – and is working with The Silver Line and Childline to support everyone experiencing isolating feelings during this challenging time.

Clara Govier, managing director and chair of People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “Feelings of loneliness can impact anyone, no matter your age. The surge in demand reported by charities over the past three months highlights how vital it is that we address this cross-generational problem.

“Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are able to provide the essential funding required to support charities as we all continue working together to eradicate loneliness.”

If you are experiencing loneliness, or are concerned for someone else, please contact The Silver Line’s helpline on 0800 4 70 80 90 to access support. Young people can contact Childline on 0800 11 11 or visit childline.org.uk.

For more information on People’s Postcode Lottery, please visit www.postcodelottery.co.uk or Facebook and Twitter.

Tips to help people with loneliness

Childline: Ways to help a child or a young person who’s struggling include:

  1. Letting them know you’re there for them and are on their side by talking to them over text or on the phone if they don’t feel able to talk in person
  2. Being patient and staying calm and approachable, even if their behaviour upsets you. Do this by recognising that their feelings are valid and letting them know it’s okay for them to be honest about what it’s like for them to feel this way
  3. Thinking of healthy ways to cope you could do together, like yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness
  4. Encouraging them to talk to their GP, someone at their school or Childline, especially if they’re finding it hard to talk at home
  5. Take care of yourself and get support if you need to. Try not to blame yourself for what’s happening and stay hopeful about your child’s recovery

The Silver Line – Ways to help an older person who’s struggling include:

  1. Keep in touch: phone your older relatives and friends to ask how they are – set up a rota with family and friends to make sure someone is regularly checking on them. Talking to others is a great way to relive old memories and remind everyone of the positive things in life.
  2. Show you care: by writing letters, sending postcards, or checking if someone needs any shopping or errands run. Simply being there for someone can be a great comfort and reassurance.
  3. Help family and friends get online: if older friends and family aren’t connected to the internet you may want to speak to them about getting an internet-enabled device so you can chat more easily and they might enjoy online classes or groups. It’s important to think about what your friend or relative might want to use their device for and how confident they feel with technology.
  4. Be aware of the signs of loneliness: the lockdown has brought changes to everyone’s normal activities and routines but there are some clues that could indicate a person is feeling lonely, such as someone neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene, not eating properly or putting themselves down.
  5. Share The Silver Line Helpline number: For a cheerful chat, day or night, older people can call The Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90. The Charity also offers telephone friendship with weekly chats with a friendly and supportive volunteer.