What are some of the key messages concerning loneliness for social care?
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing refers to three different types of loneliness:
- Social loneliness refers to the perceived lack of quantity as well as quality of relationships.
- Emotional loneliness describes the absence or loss of meaningful relationships that meet a deeply felt need to be recognised and ‘belong’.
- Existential loneliness refers to an experience of feeling entirely separate from other people, often when confronted with traumatic experiences or mortality.
This reinforces the overarching message from evidence around loneliness that, while there are themes, there is no universal cause or solution to loneliness; ‘it is experienced differently by different people and requires an individual response across a range of sectors’ (Department for Health and Social Care, 2019).
There is a strong national policy backdrop for tackling loneliness. In October 2018 the government released its cross-government strategy (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2018), which set out three principal aims to improve the evidence base, embed and create a lasting shift across government policy, and to raise awareness in order to reduce stigma. Since then, a Loneliness Annual Report (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2020) was published in January 2020 detailing progress against the strategy and three areas of focus for the future – information and communication, support for young people, and strengthening a sense of ‘place’ and community.
Subsequently a plan to tackle loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown (gov.uk, 2020) was published. These all bring together different parts of government, sectors, and society to share a collective responsibility for identifying, reducing and preventing loneliness through the Tackling Loneliness Network. Campaigns to raise awareness include the Campaign to End Loneliness (CTEL), Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, and Let’s Talk Loneliness. Alongside this there has been financial investment, mainly directed towards the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector, for example through the Building Better Connections Fund, and recently published response to coronavirus. There is lots happening.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and subsequent lockdown, more people are reporting feeling lonely, with young people feeling a greater impact (Mental Health Foundation, 2020). A recent Evidence Scope completed for the Chief Social Worker for adults (DHSC, 2019) describes some key messages for social care practice and loneliness, this is summarised below alongside some reflective questions:
There is a personal meaning to loneliness, and people experience it in different ways. People are experiencing loneliness in new and different ways throughout the pandemic.
- What do you know and understand about loneliness? What do you know and understand about the people you are working with and the impact lockdown has had on them?
The importance of social networks and communities has long been discussed and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has built on these. Organisations working across the social care sector are mobilising support in new and different ways as a result of social distancing measures. There are local examples of how people are being supported in communities.
- Do you know what is out there in the community, and how people can access activities at a social distance?
There is an opportunity for practitioners to make more / best use of technology interventions for preventing and reducing loneliness. The coronavirus pandemic has meant the ‘traditional’ ways of doing social care have had to fundamentally change – with more use of digital technology for everyday practice.
- What knowledge and skills have you learnt as a result of the pandemic that could be taken forward to reduce or prevent loneliness with people you work with?
Working together with other organisations who have a role in supporting people and communities is an important part of reducing and preventing loneliness. It supports a consistent understanding of what is meant by loneliness across a community, and what support is available.
- How are you working with partners across the sector to develop new ways of supporting people?
Building relationships is key to preventing and reducing loneliness, and this requires time. The importance of social networks and communities has long been discussed and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has built on these. Many national organisations are advocating solutions themed around safely checking in on neighbours, offering practical support, accessing support online, random acts of kindness (Red Cross, CTEL, Mental Health Foundation, HM Government).
- What are the networks and communities that have responded locally to you? Is there an opportunity to build local relationships and bring them into your social care practice?
Being person centred
Person-centred approaches work best for preventing and reducing loneliness. Using strength-based conversations to get to know an individual’s personal story will support the identification, prevention and reduction of loneliness.
The key messages from evidence to reduce and prevent loneliness fits with the values and ethics that provide the foundation of social care practice.
Social care has relationship-based practice, person-centred support, and strength-based working at its heart.