We humans are, by design, social beings and our physical and mental well-being is closely linked to our interactions and relationships with others.
This is why loneliness can have such a negative impact on us. Lifeline Australia points to data from a 2016 survey showing that 80% of Australians consider that our society is becoming a lonelier place.
Loneliness is strongly linked to a range of health issues and is considered a contributor toward suicides in our society as it can increase depression, anxiety and paranoia. Some leading clinical psychologists have concluded that the lethality of loneliness is greatly underestimated by the broader community.
A friend of mine who works in home health care for the aged recently said to me that loneliness is a disease that kills people, but it is the easiest disease to cure.
The Federal Government takes this issue seriously and recently committed $46.1 million to what is known as the Community Visitors Scheme and is seeking assistance from local organisations across the country to help combat loneliness and social isolation.
Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM indicates that the funding is intended to support local organisations recruit volunteers to provide vital friendship and companionship through regular visits to ageing people.
An individual might feel lonely or isolated due to a combination of factors. These include loss of friends or loved ones due to death or moving to a new location, living on their own, being frail and not mobile, cultural barriers or geographic isolation just to name a few.
So what can we do about loneliness? There are a range of strategies, some much easier said than done, however you might start with doing something to actively reconnect with friends or family members. You might take steps to re-engage with the community or get a pet.
If those options are not possible for you then you should advise your GP or someone else you trust about your loneliness. That should be the first step in getting some help.
Loneliness is not a problem that just affects the ageing. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is concerned about loneliness in the veterans community and details that people who suffer from mental health problems like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder often become withdrawn and isolated, cutting themselves off from others.
DVA is developing an online resource known as ‘At Ease’ that provides the serving and ex-serving community with tailored mental health tools and resources.
So what can we do to combat loneliness in our own community? We might start by looking around you to see if any of your neighbours, family or friends are lonely and provide an immediate cure by visiting those who are lonely.
We could also approach community organisations who are active in this space such as the Red Cross, Lifetime Connect or your local church and volunteer to visit those who are lonely.
About the author: Mick Birtles is a recently retired army officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the issues effecting veterans on the Mid North Coast.
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