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Loneliness – is animal companionship enough?

Let’s talk about loneliness

Loneliness is not a new thing, it is a sadness silently carried by many people, but in the last 2 years with the onset of Covid, lockdown and self-isolating requirements, more people are experiencing loneliness than ever before.

According to the British Red Cross, more than 9 million people in the UK say they often, or always feel lonely at some point in their life, and since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of loneliness have only gotten worse.

Loneliness can affect anyone

Loneliness is not reserved for the elderly as often supposed. There are many other parts of society that are affected that don’t immediately come to mind; isolated or single mums, young people who have moved to new countries or areas where they have no friends or family nearby, or carers looking after family members or friends.

Being alone or having sole responsibility to provide care for another person whether they be healthy, sick, or disabled, can be a very isolating and lonely place. Especially if there is no network of family or friends to lean on. If you find yourself in this position, there are various charities you can turn to for guidance and support.

Age UK and ‘Carers in Herts’ are invaluable to carers. They recognise the stress and demands placed on carers and provide support groups where carers can talk to an empathetic person who truly understands how lonely it can be.

Young carers can find it especially difficult as they juggle education with their caring role, often missing out on the fun things that young people take for granted as part of growing up. So, to help support these young people, Carers in Herts have a special programme designed to help young carers. Click here for more information.

Is animal companionship enough?

We all know that dogs are man’s best friend – but is animal companionship really enough? The feeling of loneliness is a very powerful emotion and not to be underestimated for its physical and mental effect on the person affected. Many people turn to animals to fill that void in their life. Having another living, breathing, and beating heart next to you can be extremely comforting. Knowing there is someone to greet you when you come home; someone to talk to, curl up on the sofa with and even cuddle up to in bed, is wonderful. Having a pet to care for can help to give meaning and purpose to someone’s life. However, as the Marmalade Trust observes, loneliness is a natural human emotion. We are hard-wired to need social connection. Feeling lonely is a useful prompt for us to look at how we can better meet our social needs. So, do we need more than just the love and companionship of our pets?

Have you ever noticed that dog owners who don’t even know each other will often strike up a conversation whilst walking in the park or sitting on a bench? Despite having close companionship from their pets, people still like a reason to reach out to other human beings and interact. One of the many positive sides of having a pet is that they bring people together – even complete strangers. So, for those people whose only companion is their pet but they crave for human interaction, what can they do and where can they go to meet people?

Join a group of like-minded people

Connecting with other people is one way to try to combat loneliness. Think of a hobby you used to enjoy or find a new one you’ve always wanted to try. There are many activity groups out there to join. It takes courage to venture into the unknown but once you have made that first step you will be surprised how welcoming people can be. Most counties have a local Rambling Society or Park Walking group. Not only will you meet new people but being outside with fresh air and exercise will lift your spirits, helping to improve your mental health as well as your physical one. And best of all, your dog can join in too!

If you’re more of an indoors type of person and would rather do something creative in the warm, Wool shops have become trendy again, popping up on our high streets. Many run classes for all knitting abilities whether you are a beginner, intermediary or an expert, and sessions often include coffee and cake!

Have you ever thought about joining a community choir? Choirs have sprung up in many community centres and sports halls bringing people from all walks of life together to celebrate in song. The perfect way to meet an interesting collection of people and improve your mental wellbeing.

Try volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to increase your feeling of self-worth whilst helping to improve the lives of people or animals in need. Many animal charities are still feeling the strain of the pandemic, with increasing numbers of animals arriving at their shelters from owners who purchased a pet in lockdown but can no longer accommodate the pet in their life. So why not give your local animal charity a call and see if you could volunteer your time and meet new people in the process?

The Marmalade Trust

If you find yourself struggling with feelings of loneliness the Marmalade Trust has created a series of supportive guides for life, in education, at work, at home and in your community that you may find helpful. The Marmalade Trust is a charity that raises much needed awareness of loneliness and helps people make connections. It is the home of Loneliness Awareness Week, an annual campaign to get people talking openly about loneliness. This year it ran from 12th – 17th June, but a single week in June shouldn’t be the only time we talk about loneliness as it’s something that people face every day and something that we all need to continue to talk about. There is no shame in sharing feelings.

For more information about the Marmalade Trust and to access the helpful support they offer click here.

For more information on charities that offer support to people who are struggling to cope, or for further reading to help with loneliness, visit the links below:





Final thoughts

Everyone will have periods in their life where it doesn’t necessarily run smoothly, and you never know what challenges someone could be facing. So, next time you are waiting in a supermarket checkout or queuing for coffee, why not smile at the person next to you or say hello to their dog? It could mean so much to them, you might be the only person they have interacted with that day.

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