Dame Helen Mirren and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman have urged people to help the elderly combat loneliness at Christmas.
Research by Age UK found nearly a million people aged over 65 do not have anyone to celebrate Christmas with this year.
Far from being a season of good cheer the festive period is set to leave around 675,000 pensioners feeling fed up about being alone, with as many as 970,540 saying they would not have anyone to share Christmas with.
The research found some 625,000 said they were feeling depressed, around 400,000 felt forgotten while up to 250,000 spoke of being anxious.
The charity said a friendly phone call or visit could be the best Christmas present someone struggling with loneliness could receive.
Dame Helen and Goodman are among those who are backing Age UK’s call for everyone to make the effort to phone an older friend over the Christmas season, so they know they are not forgotten.
Dame Helen said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that so many older people don’t have anyone to share Christmas with this year, especially after the past 18 months everyone’s had.”
She added: “A friendly phone call or a visit for a cup of tea with an older person in your life could really brighten their day and help them feel connected again.”
Goodman said: “Sadly there are a lot of lonely older people in our communities all around us and we should, especially this year, do all we can to reach out and connect with one another.”
He suggested that “something like a simple conversation could help brighten up an older person’s day and give them a much-needed boost” and “maybe they need some help getting shopping in or would like to join you for a cuppa and a natter in the lead up to Christmas”.
He urged people to check in on an older friend, relative or neighbour to see how they are doing.
The charity is also looking for donations to its Make Christmas A Little Brighter campaign, to help it meet a growing demand for its telephone-based services.
Among those who have been helped by Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service for the past five years is a 71-year-old man, named only as Michael who lives alone.
Michael, who has been chatting to a volunteer called Gemma, said: “Loneliness is devastating.
“It feels like having a prison sentence for 30 or 40 years, you’ve got no one to talk to or say anything to.
He said: “I always look forward to my call with her (Gemma) when Friday comes around, she is a diamond.”
Connie, 94, who also lives alone, said she felt “scared” that her voice was not working properly as she spoke to so few people during lockdown.
She also worries about the colder months when it gets dark early and she fears falling in the winter weather so she does not go out much.
Connie said: “I don’t know what it is exactly that makes them so important.
“I guess it’s having another person who is interested in me – that’s wonderful.”
Meanwhile, Childline said its helpline counselling sessions to youngsters about loneliness peaked over the festive period last year, with the service delivering a record number of nearly 600 in December alone.
There were 6,039 counselling sessions about loneliness from April 2020 to March 2021, marking an all-time high for a single year, according to Childline which is run by the NSPCC.
This is an increase of 49% over the past four years.
The NSPCC has launched its Here for Children Appeal calling for donations, so Childline counsellors can answer a child’s call for help this Christmas.
Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen said: “The festive period can be especially difficult for children who are struggling with their mental health or are in homes that are unsafe.
“Given the impact of the pandemic, it is no surprise that this year we’ve seen record numbers of children get in touch with us about loneliness.
“The lockdowns exacerbated these feelings for some young people, especially when schools had to close, and they couldn’t see the friends and family they loved and needed.”
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