New support is on its way for people who are feeling lonely and disconnected because of COVID-19 isolation with an injection of $350,000 across western Victoria into local services from Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN).
According to the Australian Loneliness Report 2018, 1 in 4 Australians feel lonely, so WVPHN is responding to this potential mental health crisis which has been further exacerbated by the pandemic with this program funding to provide an immediate and localised response to the social and economic impacts of social isolation.
The initial focus of the funding will be on establishing partnerships and collaboration between primary health care providers and community groups, identifying the needs of the community and then building on activities that address the social and economic impacts of social isolation currently emerging.
Western Victoria PHN Chief Executive Officer Rowena Clift says that the projects funded by these grants will work to counteract the sense of loneliness triggered by the prolonged social distancing laws caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Clift said: “Although loneliness can affect all members of society, those living alone may be particularly at risk. With 13 in every 100 western Victoria residents living in single person households (ABS 2016) we understand how the COVID-19 social distancing laws could impact these people, with interruptions to activities that bring communities together such as football and netball. Community activities and services in partnership with primary health care providers to reconnect people with each other is what these grants are designed to encourage. There hasn’t been a more important time to support the community to socially connect with others and improve overall health and wellbeing.”
Ballarat Community Health, South West Healthcare, Wellways and Grampians Community Health will be part of a Regional Social Connection Leadership Group that will meet monthly to establish a model and Social Connection Charter for western Victoria built on best available evidence and with community input. Together, these health services will use their localised knowledge and resources to deliver this region-wide program.
Social isolation and loneliness are recognised as major negative contributors to a person’s health and wellbeing. Both have been linked to mental illness, emotional distress, suicide, the development of dementia, premature death, poor health behaviours, smoking, physical inactivity, poor sleep, and biological effects, including high blood pressure and poorer immune function (Hawthorne 2006; Holt-Lunstad et al. 2015). High levels of social isolation are also associated with sustained decreases in feelings of wellbeing and low life satisfaction (Shankar et al. 2015).