There has been an epidemic of loneliness this year driven by pandemic restrictions, but with the festive season around the corner a more poignant isolation looms for many. However, with a vaccine on the horizon and the promise of a return to ‘normality’, there is something to look forward to in 2021. For now, there are ways to combat loneliness until hope turns to reality.
The SVP has been tackling the blight of loneliness for almost 200 years through befriending. This simple, yet powerful act demonstrates understanding, support and unity for anyone who feels alone and isolated from their community.
For many lonely people, taking the first step out of their solitary world is the most daunting. Fears of being a burden, the anxiety of ‘opening up’ to a stranger, and the worry that your troubles are insignificant can all prevent taking that initial step. Fear not. The SVP’s members and volunteers are driven by a desire to help anyone in need, no matter who they are, or what problems they are experiencing.
Long-serving SVP member Peter McGauley, from Sidmouth, Devon, runs a telephone befriending service manned by volunteers who understand the debilitating effects of loneliness. Peter’s team currently befriends 136 people by phone, offering support based on need. He says: “Some of our beneficiaries require a phone call every month or fortnight, whereas some need a weekly or even daily call. We cater for anyone, and everyone is treated with dignity. They are all individuals with unique concerns.”
Peter’s team also support lonely people to help each other. He explains: “When we call someone who is lonely, we often suggest they call someone else who is lonely. In this way we create a telephone befriending support group. It’s a simple, but very effective way of starting a conversation between people who share a similar problem.”
If you are lonely, and you are not able to go to church, then attend online. You can observe Mass anywhere in the world. Why not go back to the parish where you grew up? Or even the Vatican. No matter where you pray, be assured you are not alone.
Peter also suggests embracing faith can help combat loneliness. He adds: “My faith has been an invaluable support to me throughout this pandemic. Before Covid, I would never have thought of attending Mass online, but it has become central to my faith while worship at my parish church was unavailable to me.”
He continues: “If you are lonely, and you are not able to go to church, then attend online. You can observe Mass anywhere in the world. Why not go back to the parish where you grew up? Or even the Vatican. No matter where you pray, be assured you are not alone.”
Not everyone is tech savvy, and many of the population of lonely people are older and do not have access to online devices. In these cases, Peter advises: “Write a letter, send a postcard or, at this time of year, a Christmas card. They may be deemed old fashioned today, but they still mean a great deal when your message drops onto someone’s doormat. It’s the little things which mean so much.”
Loneliness is an intensely personal emotion. It affects everyone at some time, and it is different for each of us. The causes and triggers for feelings of loneliness are limitless, but one of the most common ways of dealing with it is meeting people, particularly people who are feeling the same way, and who understand what it means to feel alone.
Peter says: “Meeting new people can be scary, so take it slowly. Joining a group of people who reach out to others is a great way of turning your loneliness into positive action. The SVP welcomes new members and offers support and opportunities to meet new people and get involved in your community.”
Outside of the strict periods of national and regional lockdown, the SVP’s community support centres provide a welcoming place for lonely people to meet and enjoy the company of staff, volunteers and other guests over a cup of tea and a bite to eat. The atmosphere is always warm, friendly and inviting.
The road back from loneliness to a world filled with companionship and camaraderie requires support and courage, but the rewards are worth the journey.