Helping Australia’s Lonely People
15 November 2018 at 8:41 am
Community groups say Australia needs a national strategy to tackle loneliness as a public health priority, as new research reveals lonely Australians are suffering significant physical and mental health issues.
On Tuesday, loneliness awareness charity Friends for Good hosted Australia’s first national conference on loneliness, bringing together lonely people, community groups, government and academia to start a meaningful dialogue on the issue.
The conference discussed how loneliness affected people of all ages and backgrounds.
Gerard Mansour, the commissioner for senior Victorians, told attendees that when speaking with seniors about loneliness, they often told him getting older was a like living in a closet, as you were no longer seen or heard.
You’re not alone in feeling alone. As many as 42% of us have felt depressed because they felt lonely. Today, on World Mental Health Day, we raise awareness to these silent voices, and everyone else who struggles with mental illness. #WorldMentalHealthDay pic.twitter.com/Mhzd6EOcEf
— No Isolation (@_noisolation) October 10, 2018
Another presenter Joe Ball, the CEO of LGBTIQ+ support service Switchboard Victoria, spoke about “the loneliness of being in between” experienced by LGBTIQ+ people, who felt like they didn’t fit into their communities.
The conference was held just days after new research from Swinburne University and the Australian Psychological Society found lonely Australians suffered significantly worse physical and mental health than non-lonely people.
The survey of more than 1,600 Australians showed that one in four Australians reported being lonely, while nearly 30 per cent said they didn’t feel part of a group of friends.
Researchers said the findings confirmed that loneliness was strongly connected to a poorer quality of life and lower psychological wellbeing.
Friends for Good chairperson Patricia Lauria, told Pro Bono News that Australia needed a national strategy to tackle loneliness as a public health priority – as research had shown loneliness was as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
This idea was strongly supported by conference attendees, who resolved to send a delegation to Canberra to strongly advocate for this.
“We are calling on the federal government to formulate a national loneliness strategy, whether that involves a minister, or a commissioner, or some office that will spearhead efforts,” Lauria said.
“It might even be just the development of a new policy, but either way we want the government to take some leadership on this really important issues and begin to work with the community sector in formulating a response.”
Lauria said she was pleased to see that tackling loneliness had begun to attract political support, with Victorian MP Fiona Patten recently calling for a ministry for loneliness, while federal MP Andrew Giles has just put forward a Private Member’s Motion to debate loneliness.
Friends for Good currently runs Friend Line, a phone service allowing people feeling lonely to have an anonymous chat with a volunteer.
Lauria said Friend Line was importantly available as an evening service, which helped it fill a gap in the community.
If you are feeling lonely, call FriendLine to have an anonymous chat with one of our friendly volunteers. We are open Tues-Thurs 6-8pm. We are not a crisis service. We'd love to hear from you! pic.twitter.com/fKxP8mU9gy
— Friends for Good (@friendsfor_good) April 17, 2018
“There are many services that are available during the day but people often find the evenings to be a very lonely time,” she said.
“And it’s an opportunity to call up and speak to someone as you would a friend, to hear about what the volunteers have been doing during their day and to speak to them about all different topics of interest.
“It’s also a way for people to have a sense of connection with others in the community.”
Lauria, who has extensive experience working in the community sector, encouraged charities helping lonely people to work together and form a national network.
“Often we’re working in silos and it would be ideal if we could share information and support each other in our work, so that when our workers need to know what’s happening in their local community, they have access to that information,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing issues with mental health, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Q Life 1800 184 527, or headspace on 1800 650 890.