Once we are free from Covid we’ll be counting the costs in terms of lives and livelihoods. 

However, there might be some benefits. One might gain a greater appreciation of loneliness.

It is a problem that I view from both a different perspective. We know what it feels like to be isolated as those of us involved in Childline, the helpline that is for children and The Silver Line, for seniors. Their voices are filled with pain.

We have seen heartbreaking images of grandparents and parents being held in care homes. They are unable to view their loved ones through a window. 

Many of us today will feel cut off from the rest the world by feeling more vulnerable than others.

Now that we have all experienced isolation in our own lives, however, perhaps that experience will change us for the better – make us more empathetic and more prepared to reach out to friends and family who are on their own. And to do so even if they don’t ask, or tell us how they are feeling.

Let’s hope so.

When we finally emerge from Covid, we will count up the cost, in lives, and in livelihoods. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

We will be able to count the lives and livelihoods that we have lost when we emerge from Covid. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

But there may also be some gains. I hope that one might be a far greater understanding of loneliness (stock image)

There may be benefits. One might have a greater appreciation for loneliness. Stock image

Mother Teresa called loneliness ‘the most terrible poverty of all’, and I found for myself just what she meant. It is stigmatizing to be lonely. When in 2011 I wrote about my own feelings living alone for the first time at the age of 71, a close friend who also lived by himself rebuked me: ‘How could you write like that, Esther?’ he said. ‘Haven’t you got too much pride?’

It was painful for me to acknowledge that my front door had turned into a brick wall.

It is not worth cooking proper meals if you are alone. Is there anyone who enjoys exercising on their own? I’m not one of them. Humans are social creatures, and we need each other.

They say that loneliness is just as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes every day. It is well-known that loneliness can cause anxiety and depression. So it is no surprise that surveys show that the isolation created by lockdown has produced serious damage to the nation’s mental and physical health.

So many lives have been lost, not only to the disease itself, but because the isolation has stripped vulnerable people – the old and the young – of crucial protection.

I see it from two perspectives in particular. Those of us who are involved with Childline, the helpline for children, and The Silver Line for older people, know only too well what isolation sounds like (stock image)

This is how I look at it. We know what it sounds like to be isolated (stock photo).

Six-year-old Arthur Labinjo Hughes, who was poisoned by his parents and beat to death during lockdown, is a tragic reminder about how society closings down can lead to the loss of precious human lives. Arthur isn’t the only one.

Official statistics indicate that there was a significant increase in children’s deaths and injuries during the first year after the pandemic. According to figures from local authorities, twenty percent more children in England were injured and 20% more infants were seriously or fatally hurt.

The figures show, shockingly but not unexpectedly, that domestic abuse increased during lockdown. Refuge says that 61% more people called its helpline during lockdown. Safe havens for children living in unsafe homes include their schools as well as the support from extended families and their friends. But these refugees were not easily accessible during the lockdown.

Recent months have brought us heartbreaking pictures of parents and grandparents effectively imprisoned in care homes, able to see their families only through a pane of glass. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

Recently, we have witnessed heartbreaking photos of grandparents and parents held captive in care homes. These images are not able to allow them to see their family through a glass pane. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

Many young people started contacting Childline after the pandemic. They wanted to share their experiences of being in unsafe and unhappy homes. Many of them said they wanted to flee and that it was not worth their time.

Apart from the obvious dangers to many children, there was also an insidious threat to their emotional health, especially around Christmas. Last Christmas, Childline counselors received a lot of phone calls from people expressing their loneliness. Loneliness can have a devastating effect on self-esteem.

A child had called Childline, and I recall speaking with her. She told me she’d been taken into care because of the abuse she had suffered from her father. After her father abused her, her mother left her. She cut off her relationship with her family.

‘Nobody likes me,’ she said. ‘You wouldn’t like me if you knew me.’

She spoke with a lonely voice that I’ll never forget.

Recently, I spoke with a Childline volunteer and she told me about an email that Charlotte had sent to her. On the surface it was a happy email: ‘I’ve passed my exams, I’m so happy,’ it read. ‘I’m sorry for bothering you at Childline, but I had to tell someone.’ Why was it that the only person Charlotte could tell was a counsellor on a helpline? Our young people require us to rebuild their relationships of friendship and love, which were broken by this pandemic.

It is also very detrimental to the elderly because of loneliness.

After the lockdown, 30 percent more calls were received by The Silver Line. One caller I spoke to, a lady in her 90s living alone, told me with grim satisfaction: ‘Now everyone knows what my life has been like for years.’

Today there will be many of the more vulnerable among us who feel similarly cut off from the rest of the world (stock image)

Today, many people will feel isolated from the rest. Stock image

She was not new to isolation.

The pandemic was gripping more people, and they were calling to describe how poor their lives had become. Drop-in centers had to shut down because carers became ill. The residents of the care home were taken into isolation.

A friend of mine told me that she misses her husband and was currently living alone in a nursing home. ‘I used to spend every evening there with him,’ she said. ‘We’d watch television together and do the crossword. I miss him terribly and I know he misses me.’

And the lonely deaths that took place in hospitals and care homes don’t bear thinking about.

Our society must make fundamental changes after the pandemic. Our key workers must be valued and our carers should be paid more. We need them – and if we claim we cannot afford to pay what they deserve, surely we now realise that we cannot afford to lose them. The Silver Line Helpline has taught us another lesson. It can impact every age. It is not possible to find a cure for it.

Conversation is the best, easiest, most cost-effective, and accessible way to alleviate loneliness. No matter what regulations or restrictions we may face, it doesn’t matter how close we live to our loved ones, whether they aren’t allowed to hug, kiss, dance, sing, or clink glasses with them. We can still ring them.

Now that we have all experienced isolation in our own lives, however, perhaps that experience will change us for the better. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

Having experienced some isolation in our lives, it is possible that this experience can change your life. Pictured: Esther Rantzen

Silver Line callsers aged over 60 have requested a call to talk to me during the Christmas holiday. They want someone to listen to their stories, share experiences, and even tell jokes to. It amazes me how strong they are.

In past years, I spoke to one gentleman whose Christmas dinner was a tin of spaghetti he’d luckily found at the back of a cupboard when his carer failed to arrive with the promised turkey.

One lady I talked to said that Christmas Day was just another day. Another lady was invited by her family to Christmas lunch, but told me that afterwards she’d dropped straight back into the loneliness she’d escaped for just an hour or two. ‘And I found myself in tears,’ she explained.

A gentleman called John told me on the evening of Christmas Day that ‘to be 100 per cent honest, Esther, you are the only person I’ve spoken to at all’.

Childline (0800 1111) and The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90) stay open 24/7 throughout Christmas and the New Year (stock image)

The Silver Line (08004 70 80 90 90) and Childline (0800 8 1111) are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (stock photo)

As we spoke to one another, I heard their voices grow stronger and my loneliness recede. John told us when he put the phone down after a conversation: ‘I feel like I’ve joined the human race.’

A lady said she rings The Silver Line because ‘it’s so good to speak to someone who seems to care what I think’. It’s not that the rest of us don’t care, it’s just that in the Old Normal we were too busy.

Pandemics have reminded us all of our priorities and inspired volunteers from across the country. Communities were revived and strengthened.

So let’s not lose the empathy and energy we’ve discovered, because we will need it. It’s not only for Christmas. It can be a major problem for both young and old throughout the year.

The Silver Line (08004 70 80 90 90) and Childline (0800 8 1111) are open 24 hours a day, every Christmas and New Year.