Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Fiona Phillips: 'I was shocked at effect loneliness had on me... it was like dying inside'

TV presenter Fiona Phillips talks to Lisa Salmon about her own experience of loneliness and says people need to start looking out for each other

Loneliness can affect anyone and has such devastating effects that doctors have this week demanded a national public campaign to highlight the issue. It's a subject very close to the heart of TV presenter Fiona Phillips, who worries her own dad, who had Alzheimer's disease, was lonely before he died. She also knows from personal experience how traumatic loneliness can be.

Chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard called for the high-profile awareness campaign to highlight loneliness "empowering people to help one another".

We talked to former GMTV presenter Phillips (57) to find out what she thinks might help the one in 20 adults who say they feel lonely "often" or "always".

What's your own experience of loneliness?

Normally I've got lots going on and I'm constantly in contact with people. But a few months ago, I was asked by Saga Magazine if I was willing to spend a week without having contact with anyone and I thought, 'Yes! I can get away from my teenagers for a nice week away'.

I was in a basement flat in Hackney and by the second day I was tearful and felt as if nobody cared at all. I would just look at other people walking around and chatting. I was very low and I just wanted someone to speak to me.

I'd walk miles just to get away from myself. I was trying to eavesdrop on people's conversations and if someone said hello I'd feel so happy.

It's a huge problem for people in their 70s and older. I was shocked at the effect it had on me - I felt really, really low.

You slowly start dying inside.

Do you think your dad was lonely?

My dad used to say 'Don't ever put me in a home'. He liked his own company, so he lived in a warden-controlled flat.

I think he must have been really lonely. It's so hard to tell when someone's got Alzheimer's.

If you have relatives living on their own, make sure they're not lonely - look after your family.

Do you know anyone who's lonely?

There's a lady who lives near me and she sits on her own a lot. She might be crying out for company, although I've tried to engage her in conversation and it's not worked.

There's a narrow line between being intrusive and not bothering at all. There has to be a happy medium.

What do you think can be done to help lonely people?

We really do have to look out for people who are lonely. It might be an older person who lives on their own; sometimes it can be a mum at home with a baby or someone who's unemployed - work is a way of getting out of the house and being with people and having a routine.

There's no harm in putting a note with your telephone number on through the door of someone who seems lonely.

And people who are lonely themselves could put a note through someone's door - I don't see what's wrong with that. But people are so afraid of interfering in people's lives.

If there was an easy solution, loneliness wouldn't be happening.

Belfast Telegraph

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