Last year I conducted social research with a group of 57 people through 5 focus groups and 6 interviews and learned about – what loneliness and social isolation is, how it affects people, what causes it and what can be done at an individual, societal and governmental level to tackle it. The focus of the research was to hear from under-represented demographics namely BME women, people living in socio-economically deprived areas, people living and working in rural areas and paid and unpaid carers of people receiving palliative care. All of whom have been less visible and less heard in the debate on loneliness and social isolation thus far. Based on what people told me I was able to derive a number of key findings: –
Firstly, loneliness and social isolation is a Public Health Issue. It affects all population groups impacting on their quality of life, resulting in a range of poor often life limiting physical health conditions and driving down people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Loneliness and social isolation is often triggered, exacerbated and maintained by the social and economic circumstances in which people live including the level of resources such as financial power, knowledge and social capacity that are available to them. Those who are already at risk of being marginalised have a greater likelihood of experiencing chronic loneliness and social isolation and the associated mental and physical health outcomes.
Secondly, places and spaces are central to tackling loneliness and social isolation as they encompass both the physical environment where social contact occurs such as our homes, streets, public areas and the mobility of people across these – as well as the social environment that is the relationships, social contact and support networks that exist within a place. Places, spaces and the links between them that are well informed by those that will use them, well-designed, maintained and resourced are key to nurturing quality relationships and developing a sense of belonging and purpose.
Moreover, activities that focus on a sense of community – help to foster strong bonds, people don’t want to be passive recipients of services they want opportunities to engage in reciprocal activities that work towards a common goal and allow them to contribute to their communities. These are important in instilling not only a sense of purpose and belonging but also help to strengthen social ties on an equal basis.
Thirdly, understanding the nature and importance of compassion not only in our roles in health and care but in all services provided to the public regardless of the sector delivering them, is key to ensuring people feel they are understood, respected and that they matter. That is to see the person not a label, to recognise people’s lived experience and circumstances and to try to do something about it.
Finally, loneliness and social isolation cut across a range of multidisciplinary and cross-portfolio policies and legislation. There is a need for an enabling Government that recognises its role in delivering policies and strategies that tackle socio-economic inequalities within our society, gives people their right to health and wellbeing and invests in those with the least power.
And I am heartened by the fact that the Scottish Government’s strategy A Connected Scotland chimes well so well with the findings of my research and that there are clear and measurable actions across a range of portfolios that can help to tackle loneliness and social isolation. More widely, it is encouraging that there is a real collaborative movement to help foster a more connected society.
For further information please contact Kiren Zubairi, Policy Engagement Officer: Kiren.Zubairi@vhscotland.org.uk
You can read the full research report here: http://vhscotland.org.uk/the-zubairi-report/