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Prolonged loneliness in New Zealand before, during, and after lockdown

Media Release: New survey finds high levels of prolonged loneliness after lockdown, especially among youth, solo parents, and the unemployed

Media Release  

Auckland, 1 August 2020 – The number of people experiencing prolonged loneliness – where people self-report feeling lonely most or all of the time – was of concern pre-COVID-19. Since the onset of the global pandemic a question raised is whether the incidence of prolonged loneliness has increased or decreased from pre-pandemic levels during and after lockdown.
 
This question is addressed in a new report by the Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust. Written by Dr Spencer Scoular, the report compares prolonged loneliness before, during, and after lockdown using the Stats NZ General Social Survey, the Victoria University Lockdown Survey, and the just-released Loneliness NZ Post-Lockdown Survey (administered by Horizon Research).
 
The report finds the incidence of prolonged loneliness has increased from 3.5% of the New Zealand adult population before lockdown to about 10.6% during lockdown, before slightly falling to 8.7% post-lockdown.
 
Of particular concern, the incidence of prolonged loneliness for youth increased from 5.8% of youth before lockdown to about 20.8% during lockdown, before slightly falling to a still very high 17.0% post-lockdown.
 
“It is disheartening,” Scoular reflects, “that, after lockdown, one in six of our youth feel lonely most or all the time.”
 
To give context, after lockdown, the incidence of prolonged loneliness of youth (17.0%) is 4.4x the incidence of prolonged loneliness of seniors (3.9%) – a demographic that has historically been perceived to be lonely.
 
And the problem is wider than our youth. Other demographic groups are also struggling with high incidences of prolonged loneliness after lockdown, including solo parents (18.1%), unemployed (16.2%), Asian (13.2%), those with no qualifications (11.8%), those in a household with income of $30,000 or less (11.7%), those not in a family nucleus (11.6%), those with a personal income of $30,000 or less (11.0%), and those with disability (10.9%).

“This problem is far larger than objective social isolation,” Scoular explains. “Loneliness is a subjective emotional state that arises from not having the desired sufficient meaningful connections with others – those people you could rely on in time of need.”
 
“Conquering prolonged loneliness requires high quality meaningful relationships, rather than a large number of low quality superficial relationships,” says Scoular.
 
Whilst there remains higher unemployment, lower incomes, border restrictions, and working from home, meaningful connections will be harder to develop and sustain, increasing the risk of people experiencing prolonged loneliness and poor wellbeing.

 The global pandemic will be with us in the foreseeable future. During this time we need to address the needs of those experiencing prolonged loneliness for the benefit of these individuals, their family, whānau, colleagues, and our communities.


Read more:
Click on the hyperlink to download our report Prolonged loneliness in New Zealand before, during, and after lockdown

Newsletter April 2020

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Connecting with You

Our Loneliness NZ Newsletter

Tēna koutou katoa, Talofa lava and warm Pacific greetings.

Welcome to another newsletter… arriving in this very unusual world! Life before the COVID-19 virus affected our planet seems an enormously long time ago! We really are in unprecedented times, with such wide-scale lockdown!

From our little bubbles we are experiencing some people interacting better (great news!), and others experiencing loneliness for the first time (of concern, especially if this increases through the lockdown, and thereafter).

A reminder that prolonged loneliness can be harmful to your physical and mental wellbeing, particularly for anyone vulnerable, experiencing hardship or under strain.

Let’s

  • look after each other, and ourselves;
  • be better connected, with and without technology;
  • be prepared for uncertainty to come.

     

And enjoy meaningful connections in our relationships whenever we can.

Our new academic adviser: Professor Vanessa Burholt

We are truly grateful that Professor Vanessa Burholt has recently joined our group of advisers.

Vanessa is a leading scientist assessing the impact of the physical external environment and culture on loneliness. Vanessa recently has come to New Zealand from Wales where she held roles related to Social Policy Research and Development.

She has taken up the role of Professor in Gerontology in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, with the University of Auckland. Vanessa has wide-ranging interests such as loneliness, support networks, intergenerational relationships, social exclusion, rurality, migration of older people and attachment to place.

You can read more of Professor Vanessa Burholt’s biography here.

Our COVID-19 priority: Prevention of loneliness

Loneliness NZ is intent on conquering loneliness in New Zealand. We provide resources for everyone, and support to lonely individuals via video calls. We are at the forefront of efforts to prevent Kiwis becoming lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To minimise the risk of being overwhelmed by lonely individuals, since the Government announcement of Alert level 4 lockdown, our priority has been the prevention of loneliness of New Zealanders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our first step has been the launch of self-help resources on our website to help prevent loneliness. These resources support and expand on Covid19.govt.nz and the getting through campaign, with a focus specifically on preventing loneliness, or preventing the experience of more loneliness for those already lonely.

The self-help resources launched to date are:

These self-help resources are supplemented by links to Covid19.govt.nz, the getting through together campaign, and World Health Organisation.

Please share our COVID-19 loneliness resources page with family and friends. The link is:

https://loneliness.org.nz/loneliness/covid-19

Google rates our tools highly, with us frequently coming out at the top of a search on “COVID-19” and “loneliness”.

This gives New Zealanders quick online access to our tools. As our website is world-leading on wide-ranging aspects of loneliness, our service is providing a global benefit.

Additionally, we are very busy with other initiatives under way.

Our fundraiser: Prevent loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic

New Zealanders experiencing prolonged loneliness are at risk of both physical and mental harm. While we provide an essential service to all New Zealand, the government does not fund us.

Join us to prevent loneliness of New Zealanders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the aftermath. Please make a donation on our GiveALittle page.

Connecting with us

To everyone reading this… thank you for your interest in addressing the increasing loneliness being experienced in New Zealand.

We value your comments and general feedback.  Please do connect with us through our website page under About Us – Contact Us.

We wish you very meaningful connections with others  – your family, friends and whānau – right through the lockdown period, and as we come out to rebuild our lives.

We hope you will treasure the good that has come out of lockdown – like feeling a real sense of belonging as we have united to save lives, showing greater gratitude and connecting with friends and family, despite the physical distance.

 

Hei konā mai. Noho ora mai

Cathy Comber

CEO and Trustee of Loneliness NZ

LOVE Small Talk – avoid feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day and every day!

Loneliness NZ heart logo

 

L.O.V.E. Small Talk

LOVE Small Talk and avoid feeling lonely on special days (like Valentine’s Day)… and every other day! 

Small talk is an easy way for you to connect with others.

Small talk is the conversation we have with those we have just met, or see seldom.  Done well, your small talk can lighten anyone’s day! So use small talk on any occasion where you can connect with someone around you.

And in the right setting your small talk can set the tone for a deeper conversation

With practice you can LOVE small talk… and you can then feel good about enriching  lives… and preventing loneliness for you and your conversation partner.

 

The humble beginnings of many friendships and romantic relationships start with small talk. 

And the same goes for many other connections you make through your life work, and in your professional life… your conversations start small, impressions are made, and then we build our connections from there.

So let’s get connected with LOVE … every day with these tips, enabling quality conversation:

  • Leap
  • Open
  • Value
  • Encourage

 

LEAP at opportunities

Be ready to chat to anyone at any time – in the lift, at the airport, in the supermarket, in your local dairy… in any queue.  Have courage… in nearly all situations it really doesn’t matter if you are the only one speaking.

The trick here is don’t hesitate... talk immediately eye contact is made, or when you are standing right next to each other.  

Also be approachable when someone else has plucked up the courage to talk to you.

OPEN the discussion

Start with anything that can connect the two of you together. Often that’s simply your current shared experience… so your surroundings give you the clues of what you can discuss. Simple observations can carry a conversation a long way.

Using an example as you stand waiting to get off the aeroplane:  “Wow, that was a very bumpy plane ride.”  

The trick here is not to leave that hanging, waiting to see if the person talks back. Follow swiftly with a statement that will …

add VALUE

Adding value in this context is sharing something meaningful about yourself which enables your conversation partner to have the first step in learning something about you; or make a meaningful compliment, which shows your positive side. 

An example which combines both, is “I am usually a very nervous passenger, and so I was thrilled how well the pilot landed the plane.” 

Again, if your chosen conversation partner does not leap in with a comment about themselves, you go straight into a question because that will…

ENCOURAGE sharing

Encourage your conversation partner to participate in the conversation. The ideal way is asking a broad, open question which is directed about them. By inviting them to open up, you are taking your first step in learning about them, and so you are starting to share.   

Like, “What brings you to Christchurch at this time of year?” 

The key her is you do not make assumptions, and be prepared for any answer… because you cannot guess whether they are there for pleasure, business or something stressful like moving a frail mother into care or a funeral. Also avoid a question that relies only on a yes or no answer as your conversation will be stilted… and much harder work.

And keep your L.O.V.E. alive by interchanging between adding Value and asking Encouraging questionsso you are continuing to balance a shared conversation. 

Bear in mind that small talk is often in public settings where you can easily be overheard… so keep the tone right, and be okay if anyone else also joins the conversation.

Ideally we could think of love more broadly… not only being for connecting with romantic partners.

By loving small talk we can form a connection with anyone we would like to foster or strengthen a relationship with.

 

So get into the right head space and physical space… then 

… LEAP right into making your day …and every day thereafter… more meaningful, with quality connections.

We wish you a
GREAT DAY!

For those who are struggling how to make those meaningful connections, perhaps its time to seek help. Contact us!

Watch the video “How to avoid being lonely on Valentine’s Day” by Rachel Parkin, Reporter for Seven Sharp. The segment aired on 13 February 2020 episode of Seven Sharp. The content features Cathy Comber, for Loneliness NZ, giving some of the Loneliness NZ content in this post, as a Guide to Small Talk.

Newsletter November 2019

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Connecting with You

Our Loneliness NZ Newsletter

Tēna koutou katoa, Talofa lava and warm Pacific greetings.

Welcome to our second newsletter!

As a new, developing organisation, we are are inspired by the possibility of living in a country where all of us have genuinely meaningful relationships and high levels of connectedness. This is based on the ideal where discrimination in any form no longer exists, and tolerance is replaced by genuine acceptance of people, whether strangers or those we are more intimately connected with.

We envisage a happier and more productive environment, with reduced mental and physical illness. Early intervention and prevention of loneliness will enable us to have increased life satisfaction, with higher levels of health and wellbeing.

We continue to enjoy meeting people who are wanting to address rising loneliness, either in their community or within themselves. Thank you for being in touch!

Our Vision and our Purpose

Last newsletter we talked about how we began. This time we would like to share more about our vision and purpose.

Our vision “Conquering loneliness in New Zealand” comes from the collective participation of all New Zealanders, where having meaningful intent to treat all others well on all occasions, and the desire to remove the stigma of loneliness, become the norm. We really encourage all to be generous in spirit and action!

He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata.

We recognise that a small measure of loneliness which drives us to develop positive relationships is healthy. We are looking to eradicate unhealthy loneliness – which comes from subconscious emotional responses such as fear, mistrust, rejection and betrayal. This kind of loneliness has a ripple effect, deeply affecting our own and our fellow Kiwis lives – beyond only those that initially became lonely.
Our purpose is to improve wellbeing, and life satisfaction, by increasing meaningful social connectedness amongst New Zealanders.

By fulfilling our purpose we are looking to have better outcomes for ourselves, family, friends and whānau – in our various communities (which include our workplaces, and where we spend our leisure time) and therefore in our economy.

Supporting our vision and purpose we have developed a strategic plan from now to 2023. This is on our website – under About Us/Our activity.

Our Advisers

One of our aims is to educate our communities to understand loneliness from a wider perspective. We have absorbed the latest research in loneliness, and recognize the significant advances that would come from applying this research.

We have been delighted to connect with some more of our New Zealand researchers, across the country. As a result we are so pleased to introduce two further academic advisers who have joined us!

They are:
  • Dr Denise Taylor (Victoria University of Wellington).
  • Dr Sarah Wright (University of Canterbury).
Below is a very brief introduction. Their profiles are on our website – under About us/Advisers.

What a pleasure to now have representation from the South Island on our wider team

Dr Denise Taylor is a senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health. Denise’s interest in loneliness and social isolation is part of her wider interests in social prescribing and mental health. Denise is a qualified pharmacist, and has worked with national health in the UK, so we are very fortunate she brings such significant experience back to NZ.

Dr Sarah Wright has a high passion for understanding loneliness – making loneliness a significant focus of her research career. After several years in management consulting firms, Sarah’s academic work led her to publish research on loneliness and human relationships within groups and organisations. Sarah is a senior lecturer in the College of Business and Law.

Our view on the global epidemic of loneliness, and Government involvement

Many people aren’t aware of the reasons loneliness has been labelled as a global epidemic, and the importance of Government involvement. So we offer a brief overview of what we have seen as the key influences that have highlighted the global situation. To give an international perspective we give some information on the UK Government approach. And we also give our view of our New Zealand Government’s current position on loneliness.

Essentially research into loneliness is not new. However what has changed is that separate pieces of research and evidence are now fitting together – and looking at these more holistically has changed our understanding of loneliness, so we more appreciate the complexities and nuances.

By doing so creates a greater urgency to address the loneliness issue – doing our part nationally.

Millions of Lonely People

The first aspect of understanding the global epidemic is that there are millions of people worldwide who are struggling with loneliness. The UK figures are in the region of 9 million people! Some United States figures give the impression of the number of adults with loneliness as double a few decades ago. An Australian university survey showed a quarter of its adult population experiencing loneliness.

In New Zealand, we have many of the same issues experienced globally. We are experiencing around 650,000 people having some level of loneliness in any four week period; and in just two years, between 2014 and 2016, the estimated number of Kiwis (aged 15+) who felt lonely all or most of the time increased by 70 percent, from 140,000 to 240,000.

 

While we recognize that each country might be representing its figure on the levels of loneliness in a different – perhaps incomparable way – the issue is clear… loneliness in adults is significant and has been on the rise. (We are yet to understand the issues relating to loneliness in children.)

Global Trends Driving Loneliness

Secondly, we can now recognize global trends driving loneliness such as globalisation, urbanisation, individualism, falling birth rate, and longevity.

These have an impact on all countries in the OECD. While many of the societal changes benefit other areas of our lives, the unforeseen perverse affect on people has been to increase loneliness.

On our website, we highlight about 30 societal changes. Some of these are easy to recognize – such as the increased use of digital technology significantly reducing face-to-face connections. Others are less obvious such as the effect of income inequality, where we now recognize that financially struggling people tend to withdraw from others.

Understanding Evolution and Loneliness

Third, the late Distinguished Professor John Cacioppo – a world-renowned social neuroscientist –- made great strides in our understanding of evolution and loneliness. Our genetic make-up as humans is all about our survival and creating the next generation of people. We are designed to have some loneliness to motivate us to connect to others. However we are not designed to have chronic loneliness any more than we are designed to have chronic sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst or pain. And just like our thirst cannot be overcome with any liquid (many liquids will poison us!) our loneliness can’t be overcome with just being with any person (some people just are not good for our wellbeing!).

How you meaningfully connect with others is critical to overcoming loneliness.  The sadness is that people have become lonely sometimes by actual mistreatment, and sometimes by an ongoing perception of being mistreated. Lonely people therefore often struggle to form meaningful relationships, and have a higher mistrust of people and fitting into groups. Even without being aware of their affect on others, the way a lonely person behaves in turn could foster loneliness in people with whom they connect live, work or socialise.

Serious Health Consequences

Fourth, Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad is a leading psychologist and expert on social connections. She has highlighted the association of loneliness with illness such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism.  She puts loneliness on par with obesity and substance abuse.   Feeling lonely increases the risk of death by 26%. So her message was clear – “Loneliness kills” and she urged that dealing with loneliness become a public-health issue.  

 

World Health Organisation and support networks

Along with this, the World Health Organization lists “social support networks” as a determinant of health – recognizing that both the support from families, friends and communities, and culture (customs and traditions, and the beliefs of the family and community) affect health. 

Stigma talking about Loneliness

Fifth, during his term as US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy visited a significant number of communities. He found that people were more easily able to tell stories of their struggles with addiction, violence, chronic illnesses like obesity, mental illnesses like anxiety and depression….and yet often underlying these – and took time to come out – were the stories of loneliness.

So he recognised there is very much a stigma to saying “I’m lonely”. So it was Vivek Murthy who labeled loneliness an “epidemic”, and did so as a way of urging governments to play a role in trying to confront it.

This idea was also picking up steam in countries like the UK, Denmark, Australia, and Japan, where there had been a recognition that the adverse affects of loneliness in individuals extended to becoming a burden on their public health systems and was detrimental to their economy.
Lonely male

While there are many other supporting pieces of evidence and research, these seem to us to be the primary ones influencing the shift to increased focus on loneliness.

When we consider the way forward, we can now see that understanding loneliness is complex.

While loneliness was originally seen as a senior’s social isolation issue, there is greater understanding that loneliness does not discriminate – and anyone can become lonely. 

Paradoxically diminished quality relationships between people results from both high interconnectedness and physical isolation. Any situation which does not foster healthy meaningful relationships can affect a significant number of people to become lonelier. 

Benefits of Government Involvement

People who consider it’s not the Governments role to find us friends are quite right; yet probably are not appreciating that loneliness is not simply an individual variable. We do not become lonely only because we lack friends.

As well as how people relate to each other (and treat each other) in all aspects of our lives, loneliness is exacerbated and perpetuated by the way society – and its communities and organizations – are structured. There is a contagion effect to loneliness, which means that loneliness can spread within families, workplaces and community groups – crossing over from one aspect of our lives to another. 

Governments are in a prime position to influence population wide change – an essential element to overcoming loneliness in a country.  This is no different to government intervention for other social and health outcomes – like addressing smoking and obesity, removing the stigmas from being gay or having depression, helping refugees settle – where Governments can bring together policymakers from many sectors to educate and strategise necessary change for the wider population.

Loneliness is complex, intricately linked with mental and physical health, is not well understood, has a stigma, can significantly affect any number of communities, and affects our economy. Given this complexity, bold early intervention prevention steps need  to be taken, as well as steps to curb the rising numbers of already lonely people.

Way forward in the UK

Internationally the UK has taken the lead, appointing a Minister for Loneliness to enable a cross-government approach to tackling loneliness. Their Government has made a strong start to building a national conversation on loneliness, to raise awareness of its impacts and to help tackle stigma. Their report issued in October 2018 “A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness – laying the foundations for change” is an inspiring read.

By embedding loneliness as a consideration across government policy, the report highlights how they can give greater recognition to the wide range of factors that can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and support people’s social wellbeing and resilience.

Our New Zealand Government and Loneliness

While the Government’s “Wellbeing Budget 2019” released in May includes a section “Taking Mental Health Seriously” there is no funding that has specifically been earmarked for addressing loneliness – or increasing meaningful connections – for our population as a whole.

 

Given that a core aspect of addressing loneliness is to support enhanced relationships (enabling us to better connect at a deeper level), the ripple effect is very likely to help with our country’s other issues – such as ongoing discrimination and bullying, high sexual and family violence, and suicide rates.

However, we are pleased that some Treasury staff continue to focus on loneliness.  The first we see is in an Analytical Paper: Wellbeing and Mental Health: An Analysis Based on the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework (AP 19/01). The author shows the strong link between mental health, loneliness and overall life satisfaction; that loneliness is, by some distance, the wellbeing indicator most strongly associated with low mental health wellbeing; and gives the numbers that 41% of people who were always or often lonely also had low mental health wellbeing.
The second is in a post included on the Treasury website the Rangitaki: staff insights blog: New wellbeing analysis on mental health and loneliness. The author highlights that while loneliness may seem to be – literally – an individual problem, it affects the mental health of a significant proportion of the New Zealand community, and has flow-on effects for New Zealanders’ overall wellbeing.

So our desire is that the Government gives more consideration to addressing the issues of loneliness in a cohesive way, as a national issue for all our people.

We look forward to when that might happen, as we firmly believe conquering loneliness would significantly enrich the mental wellbeing and life satisfaction of our people.

We would really appreciate your insights on this article… so please do connect with us through our contact us page.

Our 2019 Performance Report

We recently submitted our very first Performance Report for 2019 to Charities Services. We used the opportunity to give a comprehensive overview of our new organisation, as well as the required financial reporting for the year ended March 2019.

Connecting with us

To everyone reading this… thank you for your interest in addressing the loneliness problem in New Zealand.

We wish you very meaningful connections with others  – your family, friends and whānau – and anyone else less fortunate than you, especially anyone who might be experiencing loneliness and/or living in social isolation.

Hei konā mai. Noho ora mai

Cathy Comber

CEO and Trustee of Loneliness NZ

Loneliness NZ logo

Newsletter December 2018

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Connecting with You

Our Inaugural Loneliness NZ Newsletter

Tēna koutou katoa, Talofa lava and warm Pacific greetings.

Welcome to our very first newsletter! We are a brand new organisation, and very appreciative of the many people who have already supported us in big and small ways! We look forward to continued collaboration, and support and us helping many more lonely people.

How we began…

I often get asked how we began…what inspired us to become a charitable trust dedicated to addressing loneliness in New Zealand. So, I have enjoyed reflecting on what has unfolded in the months since Spencer and I first discussed “loneliness” as a serious topic in its own right, in March this year.

It all started when we were disturbed by the shocking New Zealand OECD results on bullying and suicide. Our discussion back then led us to consider the broader context of people’s lives; and the various feelings that accompany being bullied, and suicide ideation. We thought that in addition to any other feelings – and there would potentially be many, including conflicting feelings – the one in common at some point for each person was very likely to have been intense loneliness.

That led me to recollect experiences with lonely callers phoning Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis helpline. Being very aware of needing to be available for suicidal callers, telephone counsellors were not able to give lonely people any significant time. While some lonely people understood the primary need for the crisis service and accepted short calls, others become increasingly frustrated and even angry.

Taking a call from a lonely person was often a real challenge because chronically lonely people tend to paradoxically push people away even though they want to connect to people! Getting out of this spiral is really hard for a lonely person.

We noted that the New Zealand government had no plans to follow the UK lead of having a Minister for Loneliness. Alongside, we found that many international and national researchers were highlighting the physical and mental health issues of loneliness and social isolation, for all of us.
Humans are social creatures who not just crave connection – we need it to survive.

So we explored three areas to really understand what was happening globally and in New Zealand on loneliness:

Research into New Zealand

... statistics on loneliness to understand who the lonely people really are​.

Academic journal articles

... to understand what research was being done internationally and nationally, particularly to support New Zealanders.

New Zealand organisations

...to find out what a lonely person has available and how help was accessed.

Our statistical research was very enlightening.  A staggering 650,000 people aged 15 and above had reported some feelings of loneliness in a four-week period. We could not find data on loneliness in children – and so loneliness of under 15s will increase the numbers of lonely people in New Zealand. Many, many lonely people came from our vulnerable groups, and were young people. This pattern mirrored suicide rates… very sobering to understand that so many people are not resilient enough to make it to their senior years. See the various facts on our website.

All the above led Spencer and I to create a vision of an organisation dedicated to conquering loneliness in New Zealand – to be the voice of those lonely people – and to help people understand the importance of social connections at an individual, organisation and societal level.

Outlining our proposal to Fiona Sykes, who is committed to helping mentally ill people, she very readily supported our vision, and willingly agreed to be a trustee along with Spencer and I.

The profiles of the three Trustees can be found on our website.

And so, Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust as a concept was born!

Our significant achievements this year

Charity Status

In August we were thrilled to have our charity status formalised with a retrospective date effective April this year.

Our Advisers

Successful organisations have passionate people, and people with complimentary skill-sets… and while our trustees have a unique blend of skills, we recognise that we can do so much more with further skills, and people equally passionate about helping New Zealanders.

So we consider it a great achievement to have secured three expert advisers (see profiles on our website).
  • Professor Philip S Morrison (Victoria University of Wellington).
  • Lisa Rudolphe (Auckland Museum).
  • Orquidea Mortera (Selwyn Foundation)
Prof. Philip S. Morrison
Philip chaired the Third International Conference on Wellbeing and Public Policy at the Beehive.
Lisa Rudolphe

Lisa is an award winning fundraiser.

Orquidea has led the engagement of seniors in connected retirement villages.

Our External Relationships

Starting a new organisation and a charity is a challenge, so each relationship we have set up has given us a sense of achievement. But more than that – it has turned out to be a heart-warming experience! We have had so many people (mostly strangers to us) help us with our set-up, and have been especially appreciative where their generosity extended to free service. If you are one of these – we again thank you!

And then there was developing Loneliness NZ – starting the mission of addressing loneliness.

Two of the trustees spent several months travelling between Auckland and Wellington, fostering relationships with people from a wide range of organisations who have an interest in loneliness. We consider each of these a success.

Each conversation has helped us further, enabling us to participate in several government related initiatives related to wellbeing. And we have greater exposure to active research projects. Thanks to everyone in these organisations who has hosted us for conversations and workshop sessions, and for steering us to others!

Age Concern, ANZ, AUT, CCS Disability Action, DBF, Graham & Co, Lifewise, StatsNZ, Treasury, Health Promotion Agency, Moving Web, Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, Selwyn Village, SIA, Synergy Partners, Transformation Academy, University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington.

 

We look forward to continued and new collaborations.

Our Clients

While we did not have time to focus on drawing in clients, after our website went live in September, we have had people with very different personal situations contact us for help – and many simply writing to us to encourage us further! We thank each of you that contacted us, and recognise that, for some, you took a brave step talking about your personal experiences, and current emotional pain.

Lifting yourself out of entrenched loneliness – that is, coming out of your “discomfort zone”, and seeing yourself in a different way – takes considerable effort!

I'm feeling lonely

We are here to guide you through this significant challenge!

In this newsletter we make suggestions for getting through the holidays… essentially be kind to yourself, and also be kind to others.

Our Focus

When setting up a new organisation there are so many options of where to start and focus. On our first week of planning for the trust (back in March) we considered that we could start small, slowly developing a website, and aim to attract a few clients to help them individually through loneliness. However very rapidly two events changed our focus. The first was reading a strategy book! In conjunction with gaining a good understanding of what was happening in the country, and thinking more broadly, we realised we could make a more significant impact for lonely people with a national focus. That would require a robust website!
The second was the timing of the first of many government initiatives that had some link with loneliness: The inquiry for mental health and addiction consultation document was released in April.

What a great start to highlight some of the critical issues! So our focus changed. Influencing government was now going to be a top priority.

Over the next several months, we spent considerable time concurrently doing the following:

Developing our website

wherever possible ensuring we were using current academic research, and statistics.

Informing various Ministers

of the importance of addressing loneliness in New Zealand, even while charity status was pending.

Putting together submissions

for various government inquiries that came in fairly quick succession

Submissions to Government Consultations

In addition to a trustee presenting a well-received poster at the Third International Conference on Wellbeing and Public Policy, these are the government initiatives to which Loneliness NZ submitted:
Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry
– In which we propose a new mental health paradigm where addressing loneliness is an early intervention and prevention of mental health issues.
Strategy for Positive Ageing
– Where we explain the science of loneliness and what this means for the intervention and prevention of loneliness, focused on seniors.
Treasury Living Standards Framework
– Where we highlight the need for both: an explicit overall wellbeing objective for NZ (e.g. maximising life satisfaction), agreed by Cabinet; and a hierarchical structure of wellbeing indicators, where the four primary wellbeing drivers – based on work by Stats NZ – are income, health, social connectedness, and housing.
Stats NZ Indicators Aotearoa NZ Consultation
– Where we talked about loneliness indicators.
State Sector Act Consultation

– Where we highlighted the need for a cohesive approach to addressing loneliness.

Political agendas prevail! We face the same reality as many organisations – competing interests in a very tight budget framework. So we feel really pleased with ANY impact that our reports have had – and that, amongst others, we generated considerable discussions of loneliness, isolation and social connectedness wherever we had the opportunity.

And each time we did this in a public forum we had people approach us to thank us. So we felt affirmed… and we ask all of you to continue having those discussions – taking the stigma out of loneliness!

But wait…. there’s more! ** Government embracing loneliness **

We are thrilled to say that loneliness is definitely on the government agenda, as the outcomes of some of the above government initiatives have now been released.

Hon Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, 2019 Budget Policy Statement

We are pleased to highlight these sections of the budget policy statement, which elevates loneliness to government priority.

“In other areas as diverse as the quality of our rivers or the levels of loneliness, there is a need for significant improvement.”

“Areas such as loneliness… need improving. In 2016, … 17 per cent of New Zealanders felt lonely in the last four weeks. Additionally, there are clear ethnic disparities in peoples’ social connections and sense of safety.”

Treasury Living Standards Framework

We had a number of exchanges with Treasury on the wellbeing indicators, and so we were thrilled to see these social connection indicators being included:
  • Loneliness – Percentage of adults by how often they felt lonely in the last four weeks.
  • Social support network – Percentage of adults who report they have friends or relatives they can count on in times of trouble.
  • Discrimination – Percentage of adults who experienced discrimination in the past 12 months in New Zealand.
  • Māori connection to Marae – Percentage of Māori adults who feel strongly connected with their ancestral marae.

He Ara Oranga : Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction

Prior to our submission we addressed the panel at a public forum, highlighting that the latest research showed loneliness was a risk factor for mental health. In our submission we highlighted around 30 societal drivers. So we are pleased to highlight these two paragraphs. We acknowledge that many of these social determinants listed affect a person’s loneliness and social isolation.

“A range of social determinants are risk factors for poor mental health: poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and low-paid work, abuse and neglect, family violence and other trauma, loneliness and social isolation (especially in the elderly and rural populations) and, for Māori, deprivation and cultural alienation.

“Clear links exist between social deprivation, trauma, exclusion and increasing levels of mental distress. Our wellbeing is being further undermined by aspects of modern life, such as loss of community, isolation and loneliness.

Conquering your loneliness through the holidays

There are many articles on the internet and in magazines giving generic advice on how to cope with loneliness through the holidays… and undoubtedly some advice in these will work out for some of you.

However, to avoid disappointment, accept the reality that others of you will nonetheless struggle despite absorbing all these different pieces of advice.

Any one-size-fits-all response on what you “should do” doesn’t factor in your personality, how long you have been lonely and how your situation differs from others.

So, let me propose three strategies that I sincerely hope will help.

Begin understanding your thought processes when you become lonely.

Professor John Cacioppo, the world authority on loneliness, died this year. The legacy he leaves us is the understanding of ourselves – how we need people and yet how as individuals we have defence mechanisms that hinder our relationships – sometimes with the very people we want to be with!

 

So treat yourself to exploring what a world expert on loneliness has to say.  Understanding what goes on inside your head – and inside many, many of the 64,999 other lonely people’s heads – will go a long way to helping you understand how you can also help yourself better. 

 

For those of you who like a tangible book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection” by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, is a very enlightening book, and might help you think about your own situation differently. Alternatively explore some of John Cacioppo’s internet articles, and TED talks.

Make each day of these holidays about giving.

I mean in the sense of generous, kind and loving thoughts! When we are lonely, we often spiral into self-absorption – what we want from others and what we are missing.

We forget about what we can give to others.

This type of thinking makes ourselves, and sometimes those around us, sad. So actively shift your mind to thinking the best of each person you know – your gift to them, even when they don’t know it! And include yourself – your gift to you!

If smiling while you are thinking these “gifts” doesn’t come naturally, practice smiling… feel your face change… feel some depressive weight lift… and enjoy the experience of these moments.

Give your loved ones the gift of a guilt-free holiday.

As much as some of you understandably envy others the love and laughter they have at Christmas time, appreciate that life for others is also not always what it seems. Be generous in understanding that the holiday season has its unique pressures and stresses for most people. While you are a very important person, your family and friends are probably being pulled in many directions: by others, by financial stressors, and preparation for events.
Some simply are desperate for some long-awaited – and vital for their well-being – solitude. Do whatever you can to stop yourself resenting others, and be ready to embrace them lovingly when you eventually do talk to them!

My wish for you is that you will feel exceptionally good doing this very kind service!

Our thanks and best wishes to you

So to everyone reading this… thank you for being part of Loneliness NZ’s first nine months! As so many other organisations do early in the New Year, our trustees too will strategise what steps Loneliness NZ will take over our next nine months to a year.

I have no doubt that we will be in for exciting times…and many challenges! And somewhere between now and June there will be another newsletter!

We wish everyone safe and happy holidays.

And connect with others as much as you can – to family, friends and whānau – and anyone else less fortunate than you, especially anyone who might be experiencing loneliness and/or living in isolation.

Hei konā mai. Noho ora mai

Cathy Comber

CEO and Trustee of Loneliness NZ

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Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand

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Media Release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided its submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. On May 8, a statement from Loneliness NZ was read to the Inquiry Panel at the  ‘Meet the Panel’ session at Auckland City Hospital, at which time the Panel encouraged Loneliness NZ to let them know what we would do different – that is provide a solution rather than only state a problem.  We have done just that in our Government Inquiry submission: “Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand.” In the submission we:

  • provide evidence showing the relationship between loneliness and mental health and addiction;
  • explain how social change is contributing to the rapid rise of loneliness in New Zealand society;
  • recommend a change in the New Zealand mental health paradigm, so that it is extended to include focusing on loneliness as an early intervention before mental illness and promote social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness;
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on those feeling lonely as an early intervention before mental illness; and
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on promoting social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness.
For further information, please contact us.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Incorporating loneliness and social connection into the Treasury Living Standards Framework

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Media release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided a contribution to the NZ Treasury Living Standards Framework.

By way of background, the Government budget 2019 will be different to all previous budgets.  In addition to considering financial benefit and costs (i.e. Financial Capital), the budget 2019 will be based more broadly around the Living Standards Framework, which takes account of four types of Capital: Physical and Financial Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and Social Capital. 

In February 2018, the Treasuring released four ‘discussion documents’ on the Living Standards Framework (see Further information below). Our response to these discussion papers focused on the Social Capital discussion paper, but also had implications for Human Capital and the Living Standards Framework in general. 

The discussion papers were quite technical in nature, with economics terminology.  To address the issues in the discussion papers, our contribution was equally technical. Our contribution needs to be read in conjunction with the Treasury discussion papers.

General feedback on the Living Standards Framework

The key points raised in our contribution of broader relevance to the Living Standards Framework and Human Capital are as follows:

  • There are four primary social indicators driving wellbeing. We highlight the work of Stats NZ that has shown there are four primary indicators driving wellbeing in New Zealand. We do not believe any of these indicators are currently proposed in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social connection is important to public policy. We highlight twelve important public policy issues that are associated with social connection. As a consequence, we believe social connectedness indicators need to be in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social health is a cause of physical and mental health. We provide extensive references on this causal relationship, which is relevant to the relationship between Human Capital and Social Capital.
Why is this contribution important?
 
The draft Living Standards Framework, which is a wellbeing framework, does not include any social connectedness indicators, and does not propose to monetise any Social Capital indicators. The result of this draft is that Government policy will be unable to capture the benefits of social connectedness and costs of social disconnectedness (e.g. social isolation of the elderly). Further, the draft Living Standards Framework – if left unchanged – would imply that the Government has little interest in individual social wellbeing.

Feedback on the Social Capital discussion paper

An overview of what is included in our contribution is as follows:

  • Framing of Private Social Capital and Public Social Capital.
  • The consideration of an implicit assumption in the Discussion Paper.
  • The need for social connections indicators within the Living Standards Framework.
  • The reasons social connectedness indicators should be part of Social Capital.
  • A redefinition of Social Capital.
  • The consideration of what social connectedness indicators be within Social Capital, based on a detailed piece of work by Stats NZ.
  • The importance of an indicator around “not feeling lonely”.
  • Response on the three points where Treasury asked for specific feedback, including twelve important examples of the relation between public policy issues and social connection.

A brief overview of our recommendations are:

  1. There needs to be social connectedness indicators in Social Capital.
  2. The definition of Social Capital be redefined to including Public and Private Social Capital [however, Treasury has subsequently explained how individual wellbeing fits into the Framework – without needing to redefine Social Capital to include Private Social Capital].
  3. One of the social connectedness indicators should be not feeling lonely.
  4. The social connectedness indicators should be the primary measures of Social Capital.
  5. Social Capital be monetised [given the proposal at the time that the other three capitals be monetised].
It is important that our final recommendations, listed above, are read in the context of our full contribution (see Further information), which includes many national and international sourced references. 
 
[How has the Treasury changed its view following this contribution]
 
Following the submission, the Treasury released for consultation a report by Conal Smith recommending the indicators in the Livings Standards Dashboard. The report did a great job explaining the complete Living Standards Framework which includes, in addition to the Four Capitals, a (current and future) wellbeing function.  The report proposed that the individual wellbeing function contain social connectedness indicators, including a loneliness indicator. Furthermore, it recommended a general health status indicator, which we had also highlighted is a primary driver of wellbeing.
 

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Loneliness is frequently an early warning sign of mental health issues

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Media Release:  Today Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular – representing Loneliness NZ – read out a prepared statement to the panel of the Government inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – at the ‘meet the panel’ session held at Auckland City Hospital.  The statement is shown below.

8 May 2018

Statement – Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction

Background

We represent the recently formed Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust.

We believe that conquering loneliness in New Zealand is critical to mental health.  By conquering loneliness all New Zealanders will have a stronger chance to live well, stay well, and get well.

However loneliness is not well understood in our country – it is a very complex issue. Little is known on the depth and breadth of loneliness, and how to address its root causes. Loneliness and its relationship to mental health is sometimes misunderstood. Until now, New Zealand has not had a national focus on loneliness.

We see that it is important to:

  • Give all New Zealanders a focus on conquering loneliness.
  • Support those already experiencing loneliness in their lives.
  • Upskill people in ways to prevent themselves and others becoming lonely.

Key Facts

We would like to highlight some key facts on Loneliness.

  • The lack of social connectedness is a key contributor to the onset of mental health issues.

Mental health clinicians frequently assume that loss of social connectedness is a consequence of mental illness.  However, recent NZ research shows there is a three times stronger relationship that lack of social connectedness is followed a year later by psychological distress; than psychological distress is followed a year later by lack of social connectedness.

In other words, poor social health is a significant cause of poor mental health. The corollary is that good social health provides a preventative measure for mental health – and – poor social health (e.g. loneliness) provides a point of early intervention before more serious mental health issues develop.

  • Loneliness is widespread in New Zealand.

Statistical data shows  that in the last four weeks more than 650,000 Kiwis are likely to have felt lonely.

  • Loneliness is rising rapidly in New Zealand.

Between 2014 and 2016 the number of Kiwis aged 15+ who felt lonely most or all of the time increased by 98,000 (or 70%).

This helps to explain the spike in demand for mental health services.

  • While we are not minimizing the critical importance of addressing loneliness and social isolation amongst the elderly, loneliness in not simply a senior’s issue.

About 80% of Kiwis aged 15+ who are lonely are under the age of 65.

  • Loneliness is most prevalent in our most vulnerable groups in society.

The highest prevalence (in descending order) are:

disabled, recent immigrants, low income households, unemployed, single parents, rural South Island, seniors aged 75+, adults not in the labour force, and young adults aged 15-24.

Young adults aged 15-24 are the largest lonely age group accounting for almost a quarter (23%) of those who are lonely.

  • We support the Inquiry in building a positive mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders.

Not feeling lonely is statistically one of the four key aspects of wellbeing in New Zealand.

Stats NZ has shown that wellbeing in New Zealand is mostly explained by four social variables:

* enjoying very good general health;

* having at least enough money to meet every day needs;

* having no major problems in the housing where you are living; and

* not feeling lonely in the last four weeks.

Loneliness and Mental Health in New Zealand

  • Loneliness is frequently a common symptom and early warning sign of mental health issues, including depression, paranoia, and suicidal tendencies. The need to address loneliness is an unmet need in New Zealand’s health and response system.
  • By targeting loneliness it is possible to prevent and provide early intervention in mental health issues.
  • Prevention and early treatment of mental health issues avoids more serious and costly treatment and reduces the pressure on specialist services.

Further information

Two of the trustees (Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular) would be happy to elaborate on this statement, including references, if required.