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Mental health experts are calling upon people throughout Gloucestershire and Herefordshire to help combat loneliness this Christmas.

Research suggests that loneliness can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health.

Figures from the Mental Health Foundation indicate that four in 10 people in the UK have felt depressed due to loneliness, and Dr Jane Melton, Clinical Director for Social Inclusion with the ²gether NHS Foundation Trust, said there were some simple ways we could all help to combat the issue.

“It is thought that one in 10 people feel lonely often,” Dr Melton said.

“This can be magnified at Christmas time, when many people seem to be meeting up with family and friends to celebrate the festivities.

“Those who don’t have any close family around them or close friends can feel particularly isolated and alone, but there is no need for this as we can all do something to help.

“We’re encouraging everyone to help combat loneliness this Christmas, as it can have a major impact on people’s health, not just now but into the future.”

As well as depression, persistent loneliness can also cause stress, as well as poorer functioning of the immune and cardiovascular systems.

There is also evidence that loneliness makes it harder to control habits and behaviour leading to health problems. Lonely middle-aged adults drink more alcohol, have unhealthier diets and take less exercise than the socially contented.

Tips the Trust is encouraging people to follow are:

  • Look out for your family, friends and neighbours. If you think they are lonely, why not contact them, pop round or try to involve them in your plans over Christmas.
  • Don’t just keep in touch over the internet or on social networking sites. Physical, face to face contact is very important. Too much time at a computer screen can inhibit social skills, which only increases loneliness and isolation.
  • · If you are lonely, try and involve yourself in some social activities. Perhaps visit the theatre, or join a group of like-minded individuals, or take up a new hobby. Taking the first step can be difficult, but the long term benefits can be enormous.
  • To help combat loneliness try to get outdoors. Even walking to the shops or walking around a park will bring you into contact with people and just saying ‘hello’ and getting a kind word back in return will boost your confidence.

If you are suffering from mental ill health you should speak to your GP. Information on other support available can be found on our website.