Loneliness Awareness Week – Keep them socially connected!

 In Blog

Written by Smera Nadeem, Project Manager for ELBA’s Isolation Reduction Project

March 2020: Lockdown is implemented as the pandemic strikes Britain. You are actively encouraged to stay at home, only leaving when essential. For the commuters, the arduous workers, the ones who hardly get time to just ‘chill’, you could say this situation was welcomed – a chance to sit back, catch up on shows, sleep more and spend time with family. 

Yet, there are many who have experienced adverse effects of this lockdown – those who are always at home, those who had to isolate whilst separated from family and friends or the many vulnerable people who had to isolate – and are still isolated – to keep themselves (or loved ones) safe.

This Loneliness Awareness Week is an opportunity to reflect on this issue which has recently intensified. Larissa Howells from Age UK East London writes:

Loneliness and isolation literally kills – it not only impacts physical and mental health, it also impacts the ability to access the support and services needed to prevent poor health escalating.  Lockdown was a reality for many … well before Coronavirus but we were at least able to take services to them in their own homes.  Age UK East London has mobilised an extensive programme of remote support but, with the absence of any direct human contact over such a long period, we are expecting many of clients to have deteriorated and to be in need of more support than ever.  Whilst the local crisis response from many of the communities we work with has been both impressive and heart-warming, there is a question about what will happen to those who will remain indoors as lockdown is lifted…

It is imperative that whilst lockdown remains, especially for the older people living in east London, we do our best to connect and help in whatever way we can. With our Isolation Reduction Project, ELBA has been carrying out group befriending calls for corporate volunteers to connect those who are socially isolated, both verbally and with non-verbal communication in the form of letters/cards. For those who suffer from Alzheimer’s/Dementia, having something they can read and come back to is beneficial. Keeping spirits and morale high as they face uncertain times for when lockdown will end for them is key.  

Personally, listening in on the calls, calling up the individuals separately to schedule them in, has been a very rewarding experience. I have witnessed the change in the conversations and even in the simple things like their tone of voice changing from apprehension to a very welcoming hello when they recognise me. Hearing those who were initially hesitant with partaking in the calls, start to speak more and get involved in the discussion has been great to witness – especially as they are super eager now! It is a lifeline:

I know it’s only for an hour but it breaks your day up from monotony.

– Bonny Downs Community Association, Service User

Loneliness and isolation are longstanding issues that have come to the forefront due to the current pandemic. The OFNS report (2020) states that ‘5.0% of people in Great Britain (2.6 million people) reported that they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, about the same proportion as pre-lockdown.’ That this is the same proportion as pre-lockdown is important in highlighting that this is not a new problem and needs to be addressed, it also impacts mental health and wellbeing.

ELBA would like to thank all the volunteers who have been receptive to this need, facilitating calls and writing letters. During Loneliness Awareness Week we would like to encourage all to reach out to those you know who are isolated/living alone – friends, families, neighbours, the person across the street. You never know how someone is coping until you ask and show them you have that attentive ear they can speak to over their fence, on the telephone or even through the letterbox! Keep them socially connected and give them hope!

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