Opinion: We must learn how to help each other cope with isolation
- Credit: Archant
“Loneliness and isolation. What can be done about it?” was the subject of a talk given to the Hornsey Pensioners Action Group by Sue Hessel, psychotherapeutic counsellor.
We live in a world where communication is easily available—people can be in touch 24/7, but it still remains that millions of us feel lonely and isolated—about nine million, four million of whom are elderly according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.
The problem is so acute that the government appointed the world's first Minister for Loneliness last year.
It was proposed that doctors could carry out social prescribing for those people who were suffering from loneliness, which could include recommended art classes, singing or other types of sociable activities. Unfortunately, the plan won't come into force until 2023. But in the meantime we can help by joining in what is happening in our local area.
In Haringey there have been council cuts since 2010 which have resulted in closures of many facilities which catered to the lonely and needy, sadly necessary when many people spend so much time alone. That's why it's a good idea to check on older neighbours, phone a friend or send them a letter or email as a way of keeping contact.
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You don't have to be old to be lonely. One only has to look at the incidence of young male suicides in this country or the sorrow of children who are bullied or victims of trolls.
Loneliness is so serious that being lonely can cause physical effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, developing dementia or heart disease and can increase your risk of death by 29 per cent.
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After Sue's talk, in five groups the audience with help from trained volunteers discussed what could be done to help those who felt excluded and were lonely.
Andrea Wershof, the local area coordinator for Hornsey, then led a feedback session on tips from the five table discussions for combatting loneliness. Suggestions included spending time in nature, keeping pets, campaigning, keeping an active mind, joining U3A. The mobile library and Freedom Pass are also very helpful.
Andrea talked about her job and her desire to provide the best life for clients and to be a source of information for people.
She also spoke about not expecting the council to provide all facilities but to take part in making their neighbourhood a welcoming place for everybody. She used a great phrase—Big up my street. The need to become an asset based community.
For myself I intend to put a bench in my front garden so that I may be more part of the street and easily able to talk to passers by.
This fits in with the ethos of the Hornsey Pensioners Action Group who believe that friendship and support are very much part of their mission along with campaigning.
Even talking to a stranger on a bus can make that person's day - especially as you might be the only person they speak to. It's up to all of us to be kind to one another.