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How to help someone who might be lonely

Do you suspect someone you know might be lonely? There are simple ways to help.

It could be a neighbour, someone new to the area, a person from a different cultural background, a friend who has become ill or injured, a colleague who has lost a loved one, or a young person living with a disability.

Even people who seem to be busy can experience social isolation says Nicci Tepper, MindStep® Services Manager at Australian Unity — particularly if their circumstances change.

Nicci says Australian Unity’s Home Care Service workers provide friendly, regular contact for many socially isolated Home Care Clients – sharing a chat and the opportunity to connect during their visits. But neighbours, colleagues, friends and community members can make a big difference, too.

 

Reach out to lonely people

“There are some simple ways to look after someone you think might be lonely,” Nicci says. “Start by inviting them to something – even a casual cuppa or a walk in the park can make a huge difference to someone who is feeling lonely.

“Make conversation – ask them about their interests, the weather, pay them a compliment or just chat about anything. Don’t underestimate the value of a friendly smile and five-minute chat.”

How Australia is combatting social isolation

“Always reach out to someone who you think may be lonely, whether it’s an old friend you haven’t been in contact with in a while, a colleague going through a tough time or the new coffee barista who just moved cities,” she says.

Remember, just because someone may appear to have a lot of friends, they may still feel lonely and crave some deeper human interaction. Being warm and inclusive is a powerful antidote.”

In May 2018, the Australian Government announced a $46.1m initiative to combat loneliness and social isolation in local communities. The national Community Visitors Scheme offered funding to local organisations to encourage volunteers to provide vital friendship and companionship.

Rachel Cohen, Clinical Psychologist at the Black Dog Institute, says we can all join the national effort to combat loneliness in the community.

How loneliness affects health

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society and has been linked to many mental and physical health conditions including anxiety, depression, heart disease and a weakened immune system.

Sometimes people become reclusive when they are lonely, so they might seem a little standoffish, Nicci says. “But there are very few people who don’t welcome small, well-meaning contact.

“Send a text message or kind letter, some people find it hard to respond in person but would really appreciate someone reaching out in another way.”

The MindStep® program, run by Remedy Healthcare, is a mental health initiative that delivers phone-based social support with trained coaches to assist them in overcoming feelings of isolation, sadness and low self-esteem.

Can technology help ease loneliness?

Despite widespread concerns about social media and technology increasing the effects of loneliness, Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, Dr Bridianne O'Dea, says encouraging people to use technology wisely can help them stay connected.

“Technology is a great way to strengthen social ties while also providing a practical tool for organising social activities, staying safe, and communicating thoughts and feelings that may be difficult to communicate face-to-face,” she says.

Free apps such as Meetup can provide a way to connect face-to-face with others in your area. Video apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Skype or Facebook Messenger are free ways to keep in touch with distant friends and family.

Helping Australians who feel lonely

These are some of the institutions that have resources available to Australians who are feeling lonely or socially isolated.