NHS Dumfries and Galloway are launching a pilot project to help address the issue of loneliness. This is being piloted in the Wigtownshire area over the coming months.
NHS staff are working closely with GPs, Community and District nurses to help identify those most vulnerable to experiencing loneliness in the local community.
An NHS spokesperson said: “We have probably all experienced what it feels like to be lonely. Loneliness can be described as a negative feeling we can experience when we do not have the quality and quantity of close relationships and social connections we would like to have.
“Circumstances such as retirement, bereavement and changes to our physical health can mean loneliness is more common in later life. Estimates suggest that as many as one in eight older people experience chronic loneliness. This figure is likely to be much higher however, as many older people do not recognise or report that they may be struggling with loneliness.
“Many people may not be aware that Dumfries and Galloway has the highest proportion of older and retired people living in the community, compared to the rest of Scotland. It is therefore likely that a high percentage of older people locally may find themselves feeling lonely and/or isolated. Given that our region has a high percentage of people living in remote, rural communities it is also likely that many people may also struggle with feeling socially isolated.
“Research suggests that not only is loneliness a very unpleasant experience; it can also be damaging to our physical and mental health. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders as well as physical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Recent studies report that loneliness and a lack of social connections can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
“If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness and/or social isolation and feel you may need further support to help address these issues, please speak to your GP or nurse about accessing additional help. This may involve supporting you to find local groups/volunteering opportunities that you may be interested in. It may also be supporting you to access counselling/therapy to address any issues that might be preventing you from increasing your social connections. This might include issues with anxiety, depression or other fears and worries.
“Examples of ways to increase your social connections include: Taking part in community led groups and activities; Consider becoming a volunteer to share your skills and knowledge with others; Accesssing a befriender; Using a telephone support service such as The Silverline (0800 4 70 80 90); Joining Social Media to stay in touch with friends and family; Accessing further support
“Over the course of the project, we will be sharing stories of various projects and organisations in the area which can help reduce people’s experiences of loneliness. We will also be highlighting how local people are benefitting from the NHS project on overcoming loneliness.”