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Newsletter December 2018

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

Loneliness NZ logo