This blog was contributed by Vinal K Karania, Research Manager at Age UK, and looks at what works in tackling loneliness.
We all feel lonely at times and for many it is nothing more than a passing emotion. For some this feeling can become entrenched, and negatively impact upon their quality of life. This can be overcome with appropriate support, but what is the right support? The What Works Centre for Wellbeing recently made a call for evidence to build a picture of what works in reducing loneliness in people at all stages of life and will report its findings later in the year.
Do we know more about what works than we realise? In short, the answer is yes:
- Loneliness is a symptom indicating that the relationships a person has are not in kilter with what they desire. This can happen for a multitude of reasons including the loss of a life partner or friend, experiencing financial difficulties, poor mobility or health issues, experiencing negative attitudes to ageing within the local neighbourhood and community, or acquiring caring responsibilities. The causes of loneliness are therefore uniquely personal.
- Since loneliness is personal the support needed will vary between people. For some, this may involve helping to build self-confidence or providing support to attend activities, for others it may involve removing barriers or stresses in life such as helping find solutions to financial or transport difficulties. For some it may involve a wide range of support and for others only one service.
- It is not inevitable that loneliness becomes entrenched. Informing and supporting people can help build their resilience, helping them to better cope with periods of loneliness; and that the quality of local neighbourhoods has a role to play. These wider neighbourhood and community aspects can help prevent people’s feelings of loneliness becoming entrenched, and prevention is more cost-effective and impactful.
Age UK’s Testing Promising Approaches to Reducing Loneliness (TPAL) programme found that tackling loneliness requires listening to and understanding the issues faced by people who are lonely, and providing the support that meets the lonely person’s needs and wants. This is particularly important amongst those for whom loneliness has become entrenched, for whom the causes of loneliness may be more complex.
Further evidence for what works in reducing loneliness, for whom and how, is needed to help those supporting lonely people to more effectively use the resources available. But how do we build such an evidence base? A starting point will be for the evidence collected across all studies to:
- focus on the full range of support provided to people because many people will be receiving more than one type of support since they have multiple issues.
- use consistent language when describing people’s characteristics, circumstances and lived experiences and the activities and support provided.
- collect the stories of lonely people supported to help understand their experiences.
The evidence the What Works Centre for Wellbeing collects will help us to understand where the full extent of the evidence base lies, and will hopefully give a boost to greater consistency and creativity in the collection of future evidence to inform what works in reducing loneliness.