Research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation has shown that loneliness is one of the leading public health challenges of our time - it can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Finding ways to alleviate loneliness must be a priority. The Foundation welcomes the Scottish government's recognition of the scale of the problem and its commitment to develop a strategy to tackle social isolation.
The gradual disappearance of traditional community structures and services means that many forms of social interaction have been reduced or removed. Therefore there must be a multi-agency approach to tackling in our communities involving private, public and third sector, as well as community groups and individuals.
Our 12 point plan on tackling loneliness, published in December 2017, outlines our approach. As well as this we are calling for:
- local authorities should each undertake a full impact assessment of loneliness and isolation through a dedicated commission, similar to Glasgow City Council's Health and Inequality Commission.
- councils should safeguard funding for local services such as day centres, breakfast clubs and groups for young people at risk of isolation.
- the Scottish government has a role here to remove the barriers and obstacles that allow local organisations from thriving. Where possible, government should commit to
- more secure funding periods of five years to stabilise service provision
- 80% of people with severe and enduring mental health problems are out of work and often struggle to retain work, contributing to social isolation. People with severe a and enduring mental health problems should be better supported to find and retain work
- research done by the Foundation highlighted those most at risk of social isolation were young people (18-24 year olds) and those above the age of 65. As such, forefront of any future strategy developed by the government
- Support centres should be available for young people experiencing mental health problems and isolation, with support services in place to prevent distress from worsening
- Initiatives – such as intergenerational initiatives and befriending schemes – that bridge generations and create more cohesive communities and can help to reduce isolation should be more widely used across Scotland
- all schools across Scotland should consider implementing an intergenerational project to foster knowledge and understanding between generations and increase social interaction of both groups
- increased investment in older people’s care and support services can help reduce hospital admissions and enable older people to stay at home longer – bringing benefits to both them and the financial savings to the NHS
- a 'one size fits all' approach to preventing loneliness won't work for everyone and the strategy must be tailored to meet the specific needs of groups at risk .A person centred approach must be considered at all stages of design and implementation.