District connects older people to ease social isolation and loneliness
A virtual program developed by Sydney Local Health District is helping older people connect, easing social isolation and feelings of loneliness and vulnerability that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Get Connected & Stay Connected program – which includes a Social Connection Group – aims to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.
During the eight week program, a facilitator runs a two hour guided conversation about a different topic each week, via the online video conferencing platform, Zoom. It also includes a 20-minute mindfulness session.
“It was great to have the opportunity to meet others through learning a new skill (for me) –Zoom. This now gives me the opportunity to further connect,” one participant said.
“Best of all, I have learnt that I need to connect and keep connected whenever I can for my own well-being and that of others and for the health of the community.”
A collaboration between the District’s Older People’s Mental Health Unit and Inner West Council, and funded by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, the program is based on positive psychology and an understanding that being connected to others is essential to mental health.
“There’s nothing more vital for health and wellbeing than connection to other human beings. Connection is a super-power that gets us through hard times,” Jane Massa, the District’s Suicide and Depression Prevention Coordinator, for Older People’s Mental Health, said.
“Our groups have assisted people to obtain some of the intimacy they crave and the joy that comes from connecting with others,” she said.
Three small groups of people have participated in the program and many of them have maintained the friendships they made.
“In the first session, we ask people to share their happiest memory. The reason we ask the question is that we want to show people that how they think affects how they feel.
“At the height of the pandemic, we could really hear how isolated people felt. We’ve seen a big difference in the mental health of the participants from when the program began to now.
“What we want is to sustain the connections people have made and build more connections and have more of these groups,” Jane said.
It’s worked – with new friendships being formed.
“You brought the group together and we were able to develop friendships. During this time of isolation there have been, and will be, difficult times ahead. But, through the program you were able to give us a reprieve,” a participant said.
The District’s Dementia Advisor Anne Tunks has also set up a Social Connection Group and there are plans to run in-language groups in the New Year.
The program has also been offered to other organisations, with 12 so far expressing interest.
And, with COVID-19 restrictions now easing, the program is being extended to include face-to-face meetings.
For more information and resources, please contact the Inner West Council’s Healthy Ageing Team via firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, to learn how to run a Social Connection Group, view a facilitator webinar here