Shortly before Christmas, the Jo Cox Foundation published a report on loneliness, an appropriate time to raise awareness about this subject. The Government has now said it will act on a number of its recommendations. The report contains some startling statistics about the health effects of loneliness, giving further evidence of the relationship between mental and physical well-being. Here’s a couple of examples from the report:
- Three out of four GPs say they see between 1 and 5 people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely, and one in ten sees between six and ten such patients daily
- There is evidence that levels of loneliness are higher among disabled people, people who have mental health issues and those who are in poor health
- Weak social connection is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
I’ve tried to identify areas where workers in the field of health and social care could try and combat loneliness. You can read the report at https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf
- Employers can be aware of issues of isolation affecting their employees as well as service users. Working in the community in health and social care can often mean working alone. You will be meeting people as part of your work but your opportunities to meet up with work colleagues can be limited
- We should try and understand what the Commission report calls our own ‘relationship balances’. Who do we have valued relationships with and do we do enough to sustain them? This can help us understand others. When we think about service users, who do they go to if they’re really stuck or worried about something?
- Staff should be alert to bereavement and how service users may be coping. Losing a partner may mean losing other social contacts. Working in health and social care gives us opportunities to identify concerns about loneliness. Other public service organisations such as Royal Mail and the fire service are also in a good position to do the same
- We should look for other major life events that might be triggers for loneliness. The report has evidence of events such as divorce or redundancy triggering loneliness
- Staff should be aware of community groups and initiatives in their own local area that they may be able to link with to provide opportunities for their service users
- Consider whether we can provide practical and emotional support to help people cope with loneliness and explore ways of being less lonely. Staff might need to source more specialist psychological interventions to help with this.