It’s been called an epidemic – the levels of loneliness present across Australia today.
New research reveals that one in six people experiences loneliness and lacks enough meaningful relationships to sustain them in difficult times, while one in 10 Australians lacks social support.
Alison Brooks, national executive officer with Relationships Australia, said its report, Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness? presented “a compelling case for a national discussion about the health and social risks posed by loneliness”.
“Loneliness needs to be treated as a significant public health and social policy issue,” she said.
CatholicCare is a Catholic agency helping to support the ageing and others vulnerable to social isolation with the help of volunteers.
Ninety-year old Frank lives alone and has enjoyed weekly visits from his friend Lino, who signed up with CatholicCare’s Volunteer Home Visitors Program three years ago. Both men say they get a lot out of their regular catch-ups. For Frank, whose mobility is limited due to Parkinson’s Disease, it is at least one face-to-face conversation he can count on each week.
While he has regular telephone contact with two of his daughters and their families, he says he has little personal interaction with others through each day apart from attending Mass at his local parish, going to the shops, and weekly visits to a local RSL club.
“It’s wonderful just having someone to talk to,” says the former chemical company sales administrator.
Lino laughs, “Yes, we tried playing chess, but you have to concentrate a lot and we found it too quiet.
Program manager Lucy Letner says the initiative matches seniors in their homes with volunteers willing to offer them regular ongoing companionship. She also runs a similar program for people in aged care facilities or receiving home care support.
Together, they are supported by 134 volunteers across the south-west and inner-west of Sydney.
“Such social support helps to reduce isolation and has an overall positive effect on seniors’ well-being,” said Lucy. “It also prevents tragic events such as what happened on the northern beaches a few years ago when a couple died in their home and their bodies were not discovered for weeks.”
Each Thursday afternoon Lino makes the 20-30 minute drive to Frank’s modest home in Sydney’s west to have a chat over a cuppa and play a game of cards.
Lino, who before retirement worked as a theatre orderly and administrative officer at Royal North Shore and Royal Prince Alfred Hospitals, said that he receives as much as he gives through the visits.
“We talk about sport, history, and lots of things and it’s very enriching,” he said.
“I’m learning a lot from Frank and really look forward to coming to his house.”
Loneliness in Australia
1 in 6 of people report emotional loneliness
1 in 10 people report a lack of social support
Men were more likely to report a lack of social support
Women were more likely to report loneliness
For both men and women, the rates of loneliness increases with age.
From the 2018 Relationships Australia report Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness?