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Loneliness affects millions of people in the U.K. and not just the elderly

The latest documentary from accomplished producer Sue Bourne, which aired on BBC One on Thursday, is an incredibly moving film, and it poses questions we all need to think about.

More: As a single mum, I have to be OK with loneliness

The Age of Loneliness
Image: Wellpark Productions

The Age of Loneliness begins with 85-year-old widow Dorothy from Blackpool, who reveals that she misses her husband so much she sometimes will “turn around and ask him, ‘Eric, why did you go?'” They were married for 58 years, and Eric died six years ago. Dorothy says describing loneliness “is the hardest thing”.

“You can’t see it, smell it or touch it — you can only feel it when you’ve got it”, she says.

But it’s not only elderly people like Dorothy who feature in Bourne’s film, because loneliness can strike at any age. Younger people may experience loneliness in a range of circumstances: bereavement, moving home, divorce or separation, unemployment, parenthood, illness, addiction… the list goes on.

Take New Zealander Kylie, for example, who recently split up with her husband and has been living alone in London since he moved back to New Zealand. She says that when she gets home from work, she retraces the routes of her home town on Google Maps and goes on Facebook, where it seems everyone is having much more fun than she is.

More: After a year of loss, I learned my unhappiness is tied to loneliness

Then there’s 19-year-old Isobel, who found that student life didn’t live up to her expectations. “I literally stayed in my room for three days”, she says. “It felt like a prison”.

Every story in The Age of Loneliness is heartbreaking in its own way. Bob sits in a chair beside his wife’s ashes, saying, “To me, she is here”. Single woman Jaye, 39, who is afraid of never finding “the one”, says, “I’m lying in bed, or I’m out, just wondering why nobody wants me”.

[Loneliness] is reaching such epidemic proportions in Britain that I knew I had to make a film”, Bourne wrote in The Guardian. “[It] is affecting people of all ages. It can be as big a problem for young and middle-aged people as for their grandparents”.

It’s one thing to watch the film and be moved by the stories it tells. But what can we, as individuals, do to help?

“After 18 months working on the film, I feel we can all do something small, and it will make a huge impact on lonely people”, Bourne said in an interview with That’s Not My Age. “A tiny gesture of kindness can transform a lonely life. My resolve is to do more, to be kinder. To look out and make contact with people more than before. It’s so simple, yet so few of us bother to do it”.

Visit The Campaign to End Loneliness to find out how you can help lonely people in your community. Watch The Age of Loneliness on BBC iPlayer.

More: Loneliness kills — so why don’t we ever talk about it?

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