Easing loneliness can go both ways

Sep 16, 2022

There is a loneliness epidemic across Australia with 1 in 3 seniors reporting feeling lonely. At In Great Company, we endeavor to ease the effect of loneliness in seniors living in our communities.

We also believe that the more we know and understand about loneliness, the more significant our impact can be. We often discuss loneliness relating to our seniors and how our friendly visitors improve their quality of life physically, emotionally,
and mentally. Many of our volunteers inform us that visiting their seniors has also changed their lives. 

When we consider loneliness, we think of people in solitude, deprived of social connection. However, loneliness is also experienced when our relationships aren’t fulfilling our expectations of what we want them to be.  That is why one can be surrounded by family yet still experience feelings of isolation. This is occurring more
and more in younger people. 

So, what can help? Studies show that the simple act of volunteering or doing something for others eases loneliness, improves mental wellbeing, and expands social networks. It helps people find purpose and meaning, leading to a better quality of life.*

Beryn’s story of volunteering

Beryn Jewson has been volunteering for In Great Company (IGC) for two years, visiting Elisabeth Barrett. Having retired, she missed the structure and purpose of paid work. She told Volunteer Coordinator Brenda that this volunteer program gave her this back. 

When Beryn found In Great Company, she had recently moved to the Mid North Coast. Beryn is no stranger to volunteering and during her last four years on the Central Coast, she volunteered for a program called Land for Wildlife, helping with administration.
When she retired, she wanted to do a different type of voluntary work, and she remembered how she had found her job with the Home Care Service of NSW rewarding.  

“When I was about 30, for a few years I worked with the Home Care Service of NSW. One of my ‘clients’, as they were called, was a very interesting woman who emigrated to Australia from China, although she had been born in Russia. I used
to help her with housework, once a fortnight. We became firm friends. I visited her for work for about three years, but our friendship continued until she sadly passed away at the age of 91. There was an age difference of 45 years, but this just
didn’t matter. Our friendship spanned 15 years. I would often spend Saturday nights at her place; we’d have dinner and watch TV. I still miss her. I have always enjoyed the company of older people so when I found IGC on the internet,
I knew it was what I was looking for.” 

Helping others you don’t live with as a shield from stress and loneliness 

A study conducted in the US of more than 800 people found that helping others who don’t live with you can act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress. Those who had
stressful events occurring in their lives, such as illness, loss, and financial hardship, found great mental and physical benefits in helping others. Studies with other programs also report that participants felt volunteering improved their lives,
helping them stay physically and mentally active while also expanding their social connections. 

When Beryn moved to the Mid North Coast, she did not know many people and had no family to call on.  

“Having Elisabeth as a friend has significantly improved my life. IGC did an excellent job pairing us, as we have similar attitudes and interests. Elisabeth has led a very interesting life. She has managed 10 acres in the Coffs hinterland on her own,
looking after many animals like goats which provided milk, sheep that provided wool, and horses, dogs and cats. Elisabeth loves animals and loves to look after them. I love animals too, but I can’t imagine stepping up to Elisabeth’s responsibilities
of caring for her animals. Our seniors have many stories to tell!”  

Beryn visits Elisabeth once a fortnight for approximately an hour. “When I arrive at her place, Elisabeth makes us a cup of tea (I also get a nice welcome from her dog, Tully). Most of the time, we sit outside with our tea. After our tea and a chat,
we like to get involved in an activity, lately, we’ve been playing backgammon. Also, Elisabeth has taught me how to crochet; she’s interpreted my astrology chart, and sometimes we play ukulele together.”  

Consistency and taking the time to build trust and purpose 

Consistency is key to experiencing the long-term benefits volunteering provides. In Great Company ask volunteers to visit or call their seniors weekly to fortnightly, offering a commitment of six months. For many seniors, trust takes time, and is
essential in building these relationships. 

Beryn has told us about that volunteering for IGC and meeting Elisabeth has made her life more meaningful.

“As a retired person, who misses the structure and purpose of paid work, my IGC volunteering position has in a way provided these two things that were there in my working life.”

Her motivation to continue with IGC is her friendship with Elisabeth. She tells us, “Elisabeth always thanks me for visiting, but I firmly believe I gain as much from my visits as Elisabeth does. I value my friendship with Elisabeth. I still don’t
know many people in my local area, but Elisabeth and I are good friends. I believe that would continue even if I no longer volunteered for IGC.”  

Stories like Beryn and Elisabeth’s confirm the valuable place In Great Company, and volunteering, have in our community. As Beryn concludes, “I believe it is our relationships with people that give our life meaning, and in these relationships, we need to show
and receive kindness.”

So, how do you choose a volunteering activity? Since the pandemic, there has been a greater need for volunteers in the community, and this is continuing to grow. If this could be something you find meaningful, please sign up. 

If you’d like to become a volunteer with In Great Company and make a senior’s life less lonely, you can do so here.

*Source: The New York Times article An Overlooked Cure for Loneliness