Loneliness this Christmas

23rd December 2020

In 2016, approximately 400,000 people with cancer in the UK reported feeling lonely over the festive period. MacMillan Cancer Support reported that 16% of cancer patients felt that the Christmas and New Year period was one of the loneliest times of the year, equalling that of the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

It is important to consider why this time of year can be particularly lonely for those living with cancer, and to ensure these people are aware of the support available to them. The Samaritans reported that between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, 1 in 3 calls are from people feeling lonely, compared to 1 in 5 at other times of the year.

Several factors may contribute to feelings of loneliness among people living with cancer over Christmas, for example:

  • Ill-health or finances whilst off work, not allowing people to travel to visit relatives
  • Spending time in hospital over the festive period
  • Side-effects of cancer treatment include fatigue and loss of sense of taste, often impacting on the full enjoyment of Christmas gatherings

The festive period is known to trigger loneliness for many people, a well-known population being the elderly. However, within the cancer community, it was found that individuals aged under 65 years were almost twice as likely to feel lonely over Christmas and New Year, compared to those over 65. It is important to remember that the psychological impact of living with cancer affects everyone of all ages, gender and background, and these effects may be heightened over Christmas when the busy patterns of everyday life pause, leaving a lot of time to reflect on the challenges of their cancer journeys.

From a broader perspective, it is not only people living with cancer who may feel lonely at this time of year, but also their relatives, or people who have lost loved ones to this disease. Christmas, with all its traditions, often brings back lots of memories, which can be painful if they include a loved one who was lost to cancer.

Below is a list of support available for people affected by cancer and who may feel lonely or isolated over Christmas and New Year:

  • The MacMillan Online Community is an online space where individuals affected by cancer can seek peer support 24/7, 365 days a year – www.macmillan.org.uk
  • The Samaritans have 11,000 volunteers available to answer calls to their helpline 24/7 over the Christmas period – call for free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • The Cruse Bereavement helpline will be open as usual over Christmas (9:30am-5pm), offering emotional support to anyone who has lost a loved one – 0808 808 1677
  • The CALM helpline is open 5pm -midnight all year, for men who are feeling low – 0800 58 58 58
  • SANE’s mental health helpline is open from 4:30pm to 10:30pm every evening, every day – 0300 304 7000
  • The Silver Line is a free confidential helpline providing friendship to older people, over 24 hours, every day of the year – 0800 4 70 80 90