Helping is a job for every one of us

March 26, 2015 13:21

Loneliness is on the agenda. Politicians, health-care professionals and the media are all talking about it. You could be forgiven for thinking it's a new phenomenon. The reality is loneliness has always been an issue, an elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about.

A study released last week provided fresh evidence about its impact, with results indicating that social isolation, living alone and loneliness are linked to about a 30 per cent higher risk of early death.

It isn't all bad news. When an issue like loneliness makes it to the political and media agenda, it often prompts research providing a greater understanding. And with that comes the development of innovative solutions.

There is, as a result of recent work, a much greater understanding of both how to prevent individuals becoming isolated and how to alleviate loneliness.

What, unsurprisingly, we do know is that people in this situation do not want to be told what to do and where to go. A patronising top-down approach is unlikely to be successful.

A patronising top-down approach is unlikely to be successful

Some people say that attending one of Jewish Care day centres has transformed their lives. But others loathe the idea of attending a day centre. The reality is everyone is different, their triggers are different, their needs and interests are different and it's only now that this is really fully understood.

The recent research and practice-based work all indicate that to alleviate loneliness you have to understand it at a personal level. Under what situations does a person feel lonely? What is it that they enjoy doing? Are there others around them who have a shared interest? How can we help to create natural networks to provide meaningful activities or social engagement?

How do we connect, for instance, the new mum who wants to learn to knit clothes for her baby, with the avid, yet lonely knitter, who loves babies and lives only a couple of doors away?

Or the person who misses eating out at their favourite restaurant but feels uncomfortable or sad dining there alone - while only a few roads away is another like-minded lonely person who loves eating in that very same restaurant.

On the face of it, many of the solutions seem so simple. But loneliness is a deeply personal experience; a problem with different causes and consequences for every one of us. This is what makes addressing it so complex.

There are a growing number of tried-and-tested approaches both in the UK and internationally. We at Jewish Care have learnt from these and at times we have helped shape others' thinking in this area. Our old one-size-fits-all offering has broadened and will continue to do so - from day centres and volunteer-run tea parties to befriending schemes, theatre outings, carers groups, events for single people and volunteering opportunities.

We are fortunate in our community to have our social-work teams who work closely with synagogue welfare officers and our fantastic army of volunteers to identify people who are at risk of the downward spiral into loneliness.

We have found that for many, the solution lies within volunteering. It provides them with a purpose and allows them to help in building social networks.

But the challenge is that lonely people often shut themselves off from others. Loneliness is not just an issue of ageing and can hit any of us at different times in our lives, which is why we as a community need to support people in a way that is effective for them.

To do this we all have to work together. This isn't just an issue for the professionals but one for each and every one of us.

Simon Morris is chief executive of Jewish Care. The charity's confidential helpline is on 020 8922 2222

March 26, 2015 13:21

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