Social isolation and loneliness can – and does – afflict anybody at any stage in their lives and for a host of reasons.
I see it often among my constituents. Just for example, one lovely gentleman with serious health and mobility issues, was effectively trapped in his third floor flat. He saw virtually no one and was becoming more and more depressed. We managed to find him a ground floor flat and he says it has changed his life. He is also getting support from a local charity volunteer who takes him out to do his shopping, or for a doctor’s or hospital appointment.
Probably the most important thing of all is that he’s meeting people again, he is joining up in local activities and being invited out.
Scotland has become one of the first countries in the world to develop a national strategy to deal with the serious problem of social isolation.
To kick start the strategy, in my role as Minister for Older People and Equalities, I explained that the strategy would be backed by £1 million over the next two years to support and expand innovative projects and approaches to bring people together. Improvements to health and social care, more accessible transport and investment in digital connectivity will all help to create a Scotland where individuals and communities are more connected.
Actions within the strategy include:
* Working with health and social care integration authorities to address social isolation
* Piloting an innovative housing solution for older people to test intergenerational and co-living arrangements
* Working with partners to raise awareness of the value of befriending
* Engaging with older age groups to understand how digital technology can add value to their lives
Launching the strategy, I pointed out that one in ten people in Scotland report often feeling lonely. In today's fast paced world, with technological advancements, people can sometimes feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with rapid changes in society. This can lead to people withdrawing and losing touch with friends and family.
People often feel afraid to admit they are lonely or isolated yet these feelings can affect anyone at any age, or stage, or walk of life. It is known that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on a person's physical and mental wellbeing which is why we are tackling this issue with a preventative approach allowing loneliness and social isolation to be treated as a public health issue.
This is just the beginning of work we are doing to tackle loneliness but we can't do it alone. It is the responsibility of all of us as individuals and communities, and within the public sector, local authorities and businesses to reach out with kindness and build a country where all of us feel welcome within our communities and valued as an important part of society.
The symptoms can be difficult to diagnose and solutions can be challenging to prescribe. Often, the consequences of this can be treated through effective community intervention and engagement.
As an issue which affects us all, no matter our background, the solution must involve everyone – individuals; communities; local authorities; health boards; community planning partners; third sector; social enterprise and businesses.
These are the reasons behind this Scottish Government’s commitment to find the best pioneering strategy to engender a kinder, more inclusive nation.