Written by Maureen O’Neill OBE, Director of Faith in Older People.
Having just returned to work I am very conscious that I have spent valuable time with my children and friends over Christmas. It was a joyful and fun time with time to relax and potter. However, for many people Christmas and New Year just emphasises a sense of isolation and loneliness as they watch others enjoying themselves and having a sense of belonging.
Whatever causes loneliness and isolation it is a devasting experience and it has no boundaries about who it affects.
Just before Christmas the Scottish Government launched its strategy A CONNECTED SCOTLAND – Our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections. It emphasises that:
Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone – at all ages and stages of life. As our society changes, there is increasing recognition of social isolation and loneliness as major public health issues that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental well being.
The strategy emerged following a period of intense consultation to ascertain root causes but also to highlight significant work being undertaken to support people in this position. Faith in Older People together with an ecumenical group which we brought together with the Church of Scotland Guild and also in collaboration with Interfaith Scotland debated the questions posed in the consultation and fed our responses back to the Scottish Government.
This is not a problem that will easily be solved as it has existed for many years but the context changes. To make changes and to alleviate the physical and mental impact will take all of us. We as individuals becoming more aware of the needs of our neighbours and also our friends; our work places to engender a sense of belonging; our institutions and in particular our faith communities which can bring people together and offer a welcoming place.
What is clear both from our discussions and from the strategy document is that we need to collaborate. We need to form partnerships which draw on the expertise and knowledge of others so that we maximise these and other resources available. We don’t need to reinvent services but to see what is available locally and to expand or complement. We need to build more compassionate communities for those who are lonely and isolated; those who are bereaved or experiencing ill health and those who have lost confidence in crossing their doorstep to participate. It is a big challenge.
View the Scottish Governments Strategy ‘Connected Scotland’ on tackling social isolation and loneliness.