We know that isolation and loneliness are on the increase. Loneliness can have a profound effect on our physical as well as mental health, being lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Rigorous epidemiological studies have linked loneliness and social isolation to heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide. This will obviously have an economic impact on health care and in other areas; not to mention the effect on the individuals concerned (campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health).
The government appointed a Minister for Loneliness to drive action to tackle these problems, and Age UK have put together a loneliness heat map of the UK to demonstrate where in the country people may be more ‘at risk’ of becoming lonely (ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/loneliness-maps).
DEFINING ISOLATION AND LONELINESS
It is important to understand the difference between isolation and loneliness:
ISOLATION – is defined as the absence of social contact e.g. family, friends, access to services or community involvement. The concept is therefore tangible and measurable and can often lead to loneliness. Isolation can often be alleviated by practical steps: improved transport links, increased use of the internet and localisation of services and resources.
LONELINESS – is a subjective feeling when there is a disparity between quantity and quality of social relationships that we have and those we want.
It is estimated that there are 20,000 rural churches in the UK. Although some have a small attendance, there remains a unique opportunity for churches to respond to issues of social isolation, as they often provide key community facilities and social interaction in rural communities.
In many rural areas, the only buildings available (if any) which enable local people to meet socially and/or provide community activities are pubs, village halls and church buildings. Often, church members have good links with the wider community and – along with other residents – can be a lifeline to identify and support those with limited mobility.
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