New loneliness resource offers help and advice

As people look forward to celebrating Christmas with their loved ones tomorrow, there are many others without close family and friends whose loneliness and social isolation becomes particularly hard to bear.

In Wales 17% of people report being lonely according to the National Survey for Wales 2016-17, and although loneliness is more commonly associated with people in later life, it can be experienced at any age.

Swansea University reports Dr Deborah Morgan, from its College of Human and Health Science, has teamed up with Social Care Wales to create an online resource to better equip social care staff to offer help and advice to their clients who may be experiencing loneliness or social isolation. She said “Social Care Wales approached me to be the first expert researcher to curate resources on loneliness and social isolation for their new initiative to help people in Wales access research on topics related to social care.”

The research curation project brings together resources ranging from five minute quick reads through to academic papers and audio and visual materials from a variety of external sources. The website features subjects important for social care workers and practitioners in Wales. The content curated by Deborah Morgan also features commentary about why the individual resources were chosen.

People can experience loneliness when there is a lack of quantity or quality of certain relationships. Someone with a small group of friends could find it meets their needs, while another can be lonely with a large group of friends because they may not have the type of relationships with them that they need. Social isolation is different, and can be understood as the lack of contact with other people.

Loneliness and isolation can affect people in all stages of life but various studies have found:

  • 24.3% of people aged sixty five and over reported feeling were lonely and 29.6% were isolated (Analysis of interim data from the Maintaining Function and Well-Being in Later Life study, Cognitive Function and Ageing Wales)
  • More people aged between eighteen and forty four reported feelings of loneliness (National Survey for Wales 2016-17)
  • 37% of those in material deprivation reported being lonely, compared with only 12% of those who weren’t materially deprived (National Survey for Wales 2016-17)
  • Up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day (Sense)

Loneliness over a long period of time is harmful to physical and mental health. UK researchers have found that loneliness has been linked with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, and with an increased risk of high blood pressure, whereas research from the US found that loneliness increases the risk of dying early by 26%. Loneliness is also associated with an increased risk of mental health problems such as depression.

Dr Lisa Trigg, Assistant Director of Research, Data and Intelligence at Social Care Wales, said “It is really important for us to find ways of sharing good research with people working in the social care sector and we are delighted to have had Dr Morgan working on this new initiative with us. We are planning to develop pages for other subjects and would love to hear from academics who would like to act as curators.”

Claire O’Shea, Campaign Manager Wales for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said “Loneliness is an increasing problem in Wales that needs urgent attention. Loneliness can affect people of all ages, although it is felt most acutely by older people. This is why professionals working to end loneliness need access to high quality research such as this resource from Dr Deborah Morgan at Swansea University. I hope it will be used to inform service design and the day to day work of professionals to ensure loneliness is tackled in a meaningful way.”

A pocket guide written by Deborah Morgan to help deal with loneliness can be found here.

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