Elma, who asked to be referred to by her first name only, was heartbroken when husband Bill died after a 51-year marriage. She became so lonely she “just wanted to sleep her life away”.
So the 85-year-old took at least three sleeping pills every day.
“I was mentally on the floor, taking sleeping pills just to make the day go away,” Elma told the Manchester Evening News.
“I’d take one at noon and hope to sleep until 6pm then I’d eat something and go to bed again at 9pm.
“I’d lost my husband, my best pal and my friends were scattered up and down the country.
“I just wanted to sleep my life away.”
Statistics show more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone.
More than a million older people will also go over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or relative.
But when Elma was invited to a coffee morning at Southway Housing Trust in Chorlton, Manchester, she had the opportunity to break out her rut. The trust is supported by Red Nose Day, and runs a Peer Support Network.
The network provides a space where older people can develop activities in order to reduce isolation and improve their health and wellbeing.
Elma said: “I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t gone to that coffee morning.
“The peer support group has made such a difference to my life and so many others.
“I honestly think without Southway’s coffee mornings I would be dead.”
The pensioner soon stopped taking tablets and made close friends, including 94-year-old Derek, who lost his partner and sister within a short space of time.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind my own company but not all of the time.
“The trouble is, as you get older, your social circle reduces as people start popping off.
“Loneliness isn’t a nice feeling. You can’t express yourself so you start to lose a little bit of confidence and then you’re in a bad way.
“This peer support group has been life-changing for me and so many others. It’s wonderful.”
During the pandemic, Derek and Elma have become each other’s support bubble so they have been able to meet up regularly for a cup of tea and a catch-up.
It’s also been a chance for Elma to try out some newly-equipped skills.
“I couldn’t even switch on the internet before,” she continued.
“I went to a course called Silver Savvy, bought a tablet and now I’m on the internet reading the news.”
Recalling her battle with the pills in 2010, Elma said: “I think I must have been very depressed.
“I was lonely and didn’t feel like life had anything for me.
“You start to think that you’re the only person who has been left on their own, the only one that’s lonely and sad.
“Meeting like-minded people who understand has really mattered.”
Fatima Ribeiro, Executive Director of Fundraising and Creative at Comic Relief, said: “The Southway Housing Trust is a fantastic project and Derek and Elma’s story highlights a wonderful friendship made possible through the network.
“Red Nose Day is just around the corner and this year, we want to raise as much money as possible to support people in the UK and around the world.
“We’d love to see everyone in Manchester get involved this year and there’s lots of ways people can support if they feel able to.
“Whether it’s sharing a joke, wearing a Red Nose or watching the TV – donations will help vulnerable people in the UK and around the world, including people affected by the pandemic.”