Are you feeling lonely and having problems meeting people and making friends? If you are, you’re not alone. Many older people and/or people with disabilities feel isolated and disengaged from the community. Waiting for the phone to ring usually only makes your loneliness worse and can leave you feeling even more unhappy. Taking positive action to meet people can usually make you feel much better. To help you start, here are some ideas on how to get out to meet others and how to keep in touch with friends from home.
1. Social media
Whether you choose Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, blogs, forums or another social media channel, the benefit of this ‘instant’ technology era is that there are always lots of people online to chat with and you, at any time of day. Social media can be brilliant for finding like-minded people who share your interests (movies, sports, crafts, history, books, music and more) and helps you avoid loneliness. Just make sure you take some precautions to protect your privacy and safety. Don’t provide personal details online, such as your address, phone number or any financial details. You can also protect your privacy by adjusting your privacy settings on the website to specify who you want to be able to see your details. Only using your first name online or using an alias can also be ways to ensure you remain safe.
2. Phone a friend
Take the initiative by phoning friends for a chat. If you don’t already have one, you might like to consider a specialist phone with large buttons and easy dial features, if you have visual or memory problems or find it hard to use an ordinary phone. The National Relay Service can help you to make phone calls if you are hearing or speech impaired.
3. Work and study
The shared experiences of work or study can be the basis for like-minded support and long lasting friendships. Talk to a career advisor about study options at your local TAFE or university. Recruitment companies that specialise in helping mature age workers and/or people with disabilities will be able to help you to find employment that suits your skills.
Volunteering can help you learn new skills, as well as helping you meet others. There are a wide range of volunteering options available. Online volunteering websites let you search for volunteer opportunities that meet your needs. You can specify the location and industry you want to volunteer in. You can also specify that you are looking for a short term or long term volunteer role and if you want opportunities that are suitable for wheelchairs. Major charities, such as the Red Cross, also have volunteering opportunities.
5. Find a new hobby
You can learn a new hobby at your local community college or if you are elderly, at the University of the Third Age (U3A). Look in your local paper for activities and groups in your area, such as Women’s Cottages, Men’s Sheds, art groups, local history groups and walking groups. Local libraries often have talks and seminars you can attend, as well as book clubs you can join. Or you may want to increase your fitness by joining a local gym.
6. Associations and support groups
There are lots of associations related to specific illnesses, such as Vision Australia, Epilepsy Action and Spinal Cord Injury Australia. These associations often seek volunteers for research purposes. They may also have support groups which will help you meet others who are in the same position as you.
7. Day Centres
If you are home alone during the day, you may want to go to a day centre. Attending a Day Centre will help you to meet others, while also providing leisure activities and lunch. Some Day Centres can also provide transport to and from the centre.
8. Local clubs and church
It’s worth investigating the opportunities available at your local club and church. Local clubs are normally not expensive to join and provide reasonably priced meals. Social options include bingo nights, trivia nights, information talks, bus trips and lunch clubs. Some clubs have a mini bus that can provide transport to and from the club. You may also be interested in some of the groups, classes and events organised through your local church. You could learn to make a gingerbread house at Christmas, attend a group to knit squares for charity or attend a bible study group. Local church groups will also have lots of volunteering options.
9. Getting support
Support workers can help you overcome barriers that are contributing to your sense of isolation. If you are worried about going out by yourself, support workers can provide you with essential companionship by accompanying you to the club, the theatre or wherever you would like to go. Having a support worker can help you feel more confident as they can assist with any difficulties you may experience in a new environment, whether this is with communication, personal care or transport.
10. Where to live
Living alone can be a cause of social isolation. Moving into shared housing or aged care complex (where applicable) is a sure fire way to overcome loneliness as there will always be other people around for a chat and to share meals together. Meeting their family and friends will also increase your social network.
You may like to consider getting a pet or minding a neighbour’s pet. It’s well documented that people with pets report feeling less lonely and pets are good for our health because they are are usually happy to see us and provide unconditional love and acceptance.
So start today. Make a list of all the types of activities you would be interested in doing and the groups you would like to join. Start booking into activities you want to attend. A calendar and address book are useful for keeping track of your social commitments. Keep a calendar handy to record dates, times and addresses of these activities to help you organise your time. As you make contact with people, keep a record of their names and contact details. Taking action to overcome your loneliness will help you to be happier. You will also help other lonely people who will benefit from meeting you and talking to you!
Lifeline Support Line. And remember, there’s always help available. Don’t let loneliness get you down. If you need to talk to someone about your loneliness or personal problems, you can talk to your doctor or you can call the Lifeline crisis line 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.