I was chatting to a doctor recently who explained that one of the issues he sees more and more, especially with his older patients, is loneliness.
It's a real issue which affects not just their mental health but their physical wellbeing.
This past year, with the coronavirus pandemic restricting our movements, many of us have become more lonely. Some have had to spend many hours on our own without company, friends, family. While some have, I'm sure, enjoyed doing their own thing without interruption, for some it's had a terrible effect on their wellbeing.
Governments across the world, including in the UK, are now recognising that this is having an impact on millions of people, and have realised that it is having and will have dreadful consequences for health services in the future. They've researched the subject, commissioned reports from experts and are devising policies to combat loneliness.
Loneliness 'Networks', funding for charities working to alleviate people's loneliness, 'Let's Talk Loneliness' strategies ... and so on and so on...Some of those policies are being implemented, but when it comes to long term government plans, well it can all take quite a while to materialise.
And here's a thought.
What happens when the government and even charity priorities shift as they inevitably will? What happens when the funding dries up?
While I applaud the official research and the sentiments of support being expressed, and hope it will result in lonely people feeling ... well, not so lonely ... I think there's more to this than just policies and strategies. As well as all the 'official stuff' it's also down to us personally to make a difference in a lonely world.
One of the things that the pandemic taught us was that sometimes we have to work hard to help people out of their loneliness. Now restrictions are lifting we can do more than phoning people once a week or once a month, or dropping bags of groceries on the doorstep. Perhaps we all need just to think of others a bit more. Be a good neighbour, knock on the door, chat to someone in the street. Recognise that people may be hiding their loneliness with bravado, false smiles and fake humour.
Some people's problems go very deep and we can't solve everything for them, even with all the policies and strategies in the world, but we can walk alongside them, letting them know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. Reaching out a hand of friendship, a listening ear and a neighbourly smile.
What a thought!