Charity ambassador Dame Esther Rantzen has urged people of every generation to work together to fight loneliness, as the UK slowly begins to emerge from lockdown.
Dame Esther suffered from loneliness herself after the death of her husband, and said, "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 (a service run by NSPCC) 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.
Data from People's Postcode Lottery, which was compiled before lockdown, has found that loneliness is a cross-generational issue.
Almost 61% of 16 to 24-year-olds feel lonely at least once a week. 39% of the 16 to 24-year-olds who had experienced loneliness and hadn't told anyone about it said this was 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 20% of 65 to 74-year-olds, and 15% of over 75-year-olds, experience feelings of loneliness at least once a week.
People over the age of 75 who have felt lonely are the least likely to tell anyone how they are feeling, with eight in ten (81%) not telling friends or family they've been lonely. 38% of those who had not told anyone they felt lonely said they don't think it's a serious enough problem to share.
Almost 9 out of 10 people, 87%, say they are not aware of support services in their area aimed at helping those who experience loneliness.
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 Silver Line operates a 24/7 helpline and telephone friendship services for lonely older people, and has seen demand for its helpline increase by up to 31% since the pandemic began.
Similarly, the Childline service from NSPCC has 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 added, "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."
Clara Govier, Managing Director at 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."