The other Covid jab: Loneliness


This R U (really) OK? Day, it’s appropriate to ask about loneliness, writes pharmacist Jenny Kirschner

For many it causes pain and it has some serious side effects too. Loneliness – it’s the other Covid jab. As pharmacists, we hear the loud debates around Covid vaccinations but there is a silence when it comes to talking about loneliness.

Millions of Australians are currently living in lockdown. The disruption of social routines and the lack of opportunity to make new connections is causing social starvation, and putting people at risk of loneliness.

This R U (really) OK? day, it’s appropriate to ask about loneliness.

Research shows that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, making it even more dangerous than obesity[1] , a 29% increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease, a 32% increase in the risk of stroke, poorer cardiovascular health indicators (such as elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol) and predicts future poorer mental health severity including depression. Loneliness has also been shown to put people at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.[2]

There is a perception that loneliness is only a concern for the elderly, but age does not appear to be a demographic that drives loneliness. Dr Michelle Lim, Scientific Chair of Ending Loneliness Together and Senior Lecturer at the Swinburne University of Technology, explains that “while it’s normal to feel lonely from time to time, some people are at higher risk of problematic levels of loneliness. We found being aged 18-25, being unemployed, and living alone were among the factors that predicted higher levels of loneliness.”[3]

As lockdown becomes the new way of life, conditions for loneliness are fertile. There are single parents, those living alone and those in disconnected relationships. There are the new mums, exhausted and isolated without the friendship and support of their face-to-face mother’s groups. There is a nation of remote workers with conditions that “further limit our ability to form or keep those small, informal but important moments to connect with colleagues.”[3] And the elderly have become so quiet – it almost feels like they have just vanished. 

Community pharmacies, as frontline workers, continue to engage with all demographics and can play a critical role in helping to screen patients for loneliness. Ending Loneliness Together, a national network of organisations who have come together to address the emerging problem of loneliness in Australia, created a resource called The Guide to Measuring Loneliness for Community Organisations. This guide can be used by pharmacies and describes two key methods to measure loneliness: a direct measure (which uses the word ‘lonely’ in the question) and an indirect measure (these do not use the word ‘lonely’ in the questions).

An example of an indirect question is: “How often do you feel that no one really knows you well?”

If you recognise or identify someone experiencing loneliness, or you would like to upskill yourself or your staff, here is a curated list of Australian loneliness resources and services:

Information about Loneliness:

Tips for what to do when you feel lonely and how to stay connected

Free Chat lines

  • Friendline is for anyone who needs to reconnect or just wants a chat. All conversations with FriendLine are anonymous.

Virtual Social Centres

Innovative Solutions

  • SilVR adventures – provides meaningful virtual reality experiences and activities for seniors to tackle isolation and loneliness by bringing people together through shared experiences in virtual reality

Watch this space – coming soon

  • PeerZee App is a digital personal support platform. You can choose who you want to connect with, what on and whether you want to chat, support or be supported.
  • Includi is an online marketplace addressing loneliness where volunteers, counsellors and social workers work with clients and participants experiencing challenges in building substantive relationships with people. Clients will be exposed to social upskilling through each contact to gradually build confidence, reduce anxiety and set a path to forming deep relationships in their community.

Be part of the loneliness solution

Dr Lim shares “living in a lockdown is stressful, but it’s a shared experience. It presents us with opportunities to show kindness to people we may not know well… Where appropriate, more often than not, sharing our lockdown experiences can create an opportunity to bond with and support each other.”[3]

Reach out to someone this R U (really) OK! day with the conviction that sharing experiences could be just what we need to help ease this other painful Covid jab. 

Jenny Kirschner
B.Pharm (Hons)
Health Coach Certification
Mental Health First Aid Accreditation

LinkedIn – JennyKirschner

See more of Jenny’s articles here:

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/

[2] https://endingloneliness.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Ending-Loneliness-Together-in-Australia_Nov20.pdf

[3] https://theconversation.com/lockdowns-make-people-lonely-here-are-3-steps-we-can-take-now-to-help-each-other-165256

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