It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that we have never been more connected with all the new opportunities which technology can deliver, but at the same time there are more and more people who are incredibly isolated.
It is only relatively recent that we have understood the impact which isolation has on people and the toll it takes on our metal health and wellbeing. Being isolated and disconnected from our fellow humans impacts on every generation and it is truly an intergenerational challenge.
There are many preconceived ideas about loneliness and isolation; People tend to think that if you are around people you could not be lonely. However, the reality is very different and even those who live in communal settings can find themselves lonely and isolated, even though they may be surrounded by lots of people.
Understanding what causes loneliness is something that is vital for everyone to recognise and it should be high on the training and development curriculum for people who work in the care sector. One of the causes of loneliness can be bereavement and loss, but it is really important that we have a broad understanding of these terms and it does not only apply to those who may have lost somebody they care for through death.
We can also suffer bereavement for the lives that we have led and the things that we have lost. It is often true of people who live in care services that they are grieving for the fact that they can no longer live independently, or may have lost access to their networks of family and friends. Just because they live in a communal setting surrounded by people every day does not necessarily mitigate their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness can affect everyone and it is a truly universal challenge that requires a comprehensive and societal response. There are so many people who can tell you that they have hundreds of friends on Facebook, followers on snap chat or Instagram, but yet don’t have anybody to go out with on a Friday night.
There is nothing that can substitute for the human connections that we have with each other. No number of messages can take the place of sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee and talking about anything and everything. There is a great pleasure in connecting with somebody who shares your interests, values and views and discussing with them your perspective on the world.
The fact the loneliness affects all the generations gives us a real opportunity to ensure that we connect people of all ages.
It was brilliant to see the work being done on the care home for four-year-olds, which showed the importance of interaction are both young and old. Care providers have a real opportunity to be able to break down barriers and ensure that people have a good life and their wellbeing and mental health are supported by interactions and friendships.
Loneliness is a challenge in care settings and it is often ignored because people assume that if somebody is living with others, they are not lonely. This of course could not be further from the truth, so it is incumbent on us all to ensure that care settings are places where people connect with one another and are able to develop friendships and ensure that they have a good quality-of-life and are not lonely and isolated. However frail we may become we remain human and human beings need friendship and connections in order to thrive.