By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke
In my role as Chief Advocate, I’m often asked to comment on social issues.
I recently had a call from Sky News’ Ashleigh Gillon. She wanted me to go to their TV studio and talk about a recent newspaper report that said 60 per cent of Australians experience loneliness. It also said the number of friends people have has halved since 2005.
I was sad to hear about this but happy to do the interview. I pointed out that loneliness as a problem affected Australians of all ages. But we know that towards the end of our lives the problem can be at its greatest.
Last year, Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt addressed the National Press Club. He told the audience that he’d recently been to an aged care facility in Western Australia where some residents had not received a single visitor in a year. He said from his experience, up to 40 per cent of aged care residents don’t get visitors.
Loneliness is not just a social problem - it’s also a health issue.
Research from the UK suggests loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. When we connect with people we feel less stressed, happier, our blood pressure is lower, and generally our physical and mental health is better.
The UK research also found every dollar spent on preventing loneliness saved three dollars in the health system. The UK even has a Minister for Loneliness.
So, I’d encourage you to get connected and enjoy the friendship and fellowship of others. It’s a good health move and another good reason for being an active member of National Seniors.
Earlier this year I went to a National Seniors zone event in the Bunya Mountains National Park in Queensland. The members who travelled to the event had an overnight stay and meals together before and after the meeting. It was wonderful. People were laughing, sharing stories and generally enjoying life.
If you are experiencing loneliness, make the effort to fight it. If you know someone who you think needs more social connection, take the first step and connect, or reconnect, with them.
Connecting online is one thing, but connecting in real life is the real thing.
Loneliness, and the feeling of being unwanted, is the most terrible poverty.