Did you know that loneliness can seriously damage your health?
Recent research shows that a lack of social connection is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That sounds terribly ominous. I hope they extend this study to establish the truth about the crossover between the two. Such is the case in freelance journalism, a lonely profession in which heavy drinking is mandatory and smoking is often the best way to find a kindred soul. We understand the pain of the marginalised people.
The good news is that social networks and friendships reduce the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, says The Campaign to End Loneliness In Older Age. A sense of community also help people to recover when they fall ill. Just as herd immunity sees groups of animals collectively develop a stronger reaction to disease, through the shared experience of antibodies and mild infections, so people can find strength in numbers to fend off mental health issues.
All too often it’s older people who are isolated and lonely. They can feel invisible, despite the fact there are often neighbours living nearby who would happily offer them help and companionship. This feeling of ‘loneliness in a crowd’ is especially common in London, where there are often transient populations and people are less likely to want their neighbours knowing their business. People are often afraid of mingling too. There’s nothing worse than getting dragged into the inner circle of the local busy body!
However, despite this apparent shyness, most of us would want to commit to helping a neighbour, if we were needed. This is where technology works well, since it gives a new channel of communication that changes the level of obligation, so there is less chat and more commitment.
In urban areas there is a lack of connection in a disjointed social fabric. In rural areas there is often a lack of awareness, since people are so widely dispersed and may never see each other on a daily basis.
This is why we have great hopes for Ami, an invention from Oxford Computer Consultants, (OCS) which is a sort of mobile social ice breaker and organiser. It acts as a matching mechanism by creating a simple and more socially acceptable way for two distinct groups (the elderly and volunteer mentors) to connect. As a result it aims to combat loneliness in local communities.
“Ami will make it quicker and easier to match volunteers with lonely people,” says Patrica Chirgin, the manager of volunteer linkup for OCS. Once a volunteer has registered they use the app to let Ami know when they have free time. Then they select a suitable task from the range of possible involvements and get immediate confirmation of where they need to be and when.
“We are looking for a system that gives us the greatest flexibility in terms of being able to offer our users a twenty four seven service that allows them to book and to seek help,” says the Royal Voluntary Service’s director of Strategy Karl Demian.
Ami is easy enough for older people to use it to post up the specific assistance they need. Volunteers from the organisation that supports them can then search their local postcode and identify who needs help. All volunteers are thorughly screened first.
A pilot project for the county of Oxfordshire in the UK is currently being developed. If successful, it could be extended to the rest of the nation or even the globe, bringing the superficial connectivity of cyberia to the tangible relationshps of the real world, and accentuating the strengths of both. Much like the partnerships being forged between the vulnerable and the volunteer helpers.
Loneliness and vulnerability can be created by all kinds of circumstances that are beyond our control and which suddenly impose themselves on us. People move or die and you find yourself with fewer friends than you once had. Bereavement, illness, retirement, moving house, having a baby and starting a new course can all leave you isolated. Ami Activities, with a grant from The Nominet Trust aims to give new connections to new people and a new lease of life for £2 a month.