Tips to empower individuals and communities to eradicate the social ills of being isolated and feeling lonely are at the heart of the first annual report from Croydon’s director of public health.
Rachel Flowers, who took up her post at Croydon Council at the beginning of the year, has provided a steer to progress pledges made at the 2016 Croydon Congress and act on recommendations in the Opportunity and Fairness Commission report, to prevent residents feeling excluded from family, friends and social networks. These experiences are often detrimental to a person’s emotional, mental and sometimes physical health.
In Croydon, there are an estimated 9,860 older people who are lonely and 5,423 older people who experience intense loneliness. This is alongside more than 17,000 people aged 18 to 64 who are socially isolated.
Ms Flowers’ report, which will be presented to cabinet members this evening (14 November) focuses on how individuals and communities can play their part to support each other.
Special attention is paid to periods during a person’s life where they are most at risk of a solitary existence – such as pregnancy, being a mother with very young children, young people who experience adversity, adults of working age, those recently retired, and much older people.
There are also examples of best practice in the borough already making a difference to vulnerable groups, such as Bump Dance Fitness, an initiative founded by New Addington residents to support local mums in making new friends.
Another group, Lingua House, set up by the Afghan community, runs English language classes for young people to help them participate more in the wider community.
The director of public health advocates this approach of simple, effective tips for communities and the council, health service providers and the voluntary sector to tackle loneliness and social isolation. They include:
Tips for carers:
• Take care of yourself. It’s not just the person you are caring for who is at risk of social isolation; you are, too.
• Seek support from people who understand your circumstances and can help you feel less alone, such as a carers’ support group.
Tips for new mums:
• Meet up with other women in a similar situation to avoid feeling disconnected from other friends who may not be going through the same experience.
• Take some time out for yourself – go for a walk, have coffee with a friend, or join an exercise class.
Tips for children and young people:
• Work toward small goals which can help you to feel positive about yourself, and enjoy what you do – you don’t have to be perfect at it.
• Try to not compare yourself to others. Information shared on social media is often carefully selected to put others in their best light possible.
Tips for parents:
• Support children to stay healthy with nutritious meals and exercise as these will improve their learning at school and increase self-confidence.
Tips for working adults:
• Nurture support networks, such as online social sites and through volunteering to keep connected with your community.
• Have phone conversations with family and friends, or link up via social media or video conferencing – this can be the next best thing to physically being with them.
Tips for older adults:
• Have your hearing regularly checked, and treated if needed, to enable you to communicate better and avoid feeling embarrassed when out and about.
• Be open to learning how to use technology to maintain connections with loved ones.
Commenting on her report, Rachel Flowers said: “There’s so much we can do as individuals and as a community to address loneliness and social isolation. It’s not always grand gestures that are required; a smile, a meal shared or asking for, or offering, help can make a real difference.
“My report for Croydon provides a few ideas of some simple things we all can do for ourselves, friends and community to reduce social isolation and loneliness and help reduce the health harm it can bring – there are many other things that I’m sure people can think of and I’d encourage them to go and do their bit across Croydon.”