All the Lonely People – isolation and loneliness in Victoria
Isolation and loneliness – the emerging health epidemic of the 21st century
Isolation and loneliness are emerging as health epidemic concerns for the 21st century, with one in four Australians reporting being lonely, according to the Australian Loneliness Report (2018) conducted by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University of Technology.
The survey confirms that people feeling lonely often experience:
- poorer quality of life
- lower feelings of wellbeing
- discomfort in social situations
- poorer social connections.
The UK develops a response to tackle ‘the sad reality of life’
In the UK, the government investigated the issue before developing a whole-of-government response, which included allocating funding for research and activities under the banner of a Minister for Loneliness to tackle what their Prime Minister referred to as: ‘the sad reality of life’.
Isolation and COVID-19
The isolation of older people out of fear of contracting COVID-19 is leading to an increase in anxiety and even panic in the community. COTA Victoria receives daily calls from older people and their family members who are distressed or fearful for the future, as people become increasingly isolated from each other.
We’ve all become aware of what we need to do to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it’s important to support people experiencing anxiety. We need to think creatively about how we can stay connected, continue conversations and practice self-care.
COTA Australia has worked with the Federal Government appropriate restrictions for people living in aged care. These include screening visitors, restricting access to two visitors and taking a compassionate, case-by-case approach for residents in palliative care or dying.
COTA Victoria’s work in social isolation
Back in 2014 we produced the first research paper called Social Isolation: Its impact on the mental health and wellbeing of older Australians by Anne Pate.
Victorian government response to social isolation
In 2016 the Commissioner for Seniors Gerard Mansour produced Ageing is everyone’s business – a report on isolation and loneliness among senior Victorians, based on a listening tour he did across the state. According to this research, about 185,000 older people in Victoria are likely to experience loneliness by 2031.
To address some of these issues, the Victorian Government this year invited applications for $700,000 in Seniors Participation Grants to help reduce the risk factors that lead to vulnerability, disadvantage, social isolation and loneliness. While this is valuable, there is clearly a need for greater funding in this area, as more than $6 million in grant applications was received.
Australian not-for-profit set up to free people from loneliness
In an effort to address some of the funding and service provider issues, a Melbourne-based not-for-profit organisation Friends for Good was formed in 2016 with a vision that ‘people are free from loneliness’. The organisation raises awareness of loneliness as a significant issue, hosts conferences and community lunches, and conducts a Friendline chat service. This chat service is available by calling 1800 424 287 on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6-8pm.
Friends for Good has also formed the Friendship Alliance, a national membership group for any individual or organisations working to reduce social isolation and loneliness in Australia, with its core purpose being to share information, to seek better Australian-based research and work towards greater change.
COTA Victoria is continuing to include isolation and loneliness in its policy work through the royal commissions into aged care (Australian Government) and mental health (Victorian Government). We are also seeking other ways to support longer-term positive change, particularly for older people.
For more information about our work around social isolation please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org