GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV)- Sadness during the holidays. Inclement weather forcing people indoors. Advanced age keeping seniors from venturing out. A long, drawn out pandemic. It’s a fatal combination when it comes to social isolation. The lack of connection can have life threatening consequences. Any one of these factors can create anxiety, depression and loneliness. Isolation can be lethal. And that’s not hyperbole. According to an AARP Foundation research report– “The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report” — adults 65+ have an increased risk of dying early due to subjective feelings of loneliness.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we faced a global epidemic of loneliness and social isolation among adults, carrying with it significant health and emotional risks. Data on the mental health effects of the pandemic is scant. But experts say that social distancing has fueled an even greater mental health crisis.
And while most people have slowly returned to venturing back into normal routines not everyone has. The impact of isolation is more prominent with older adults, particularly among women and those who are low income. More than half of adults 50 and older reported social isolation — defined as an absence of meaningful social relationships — during the pandemic.
It’s necessary older adults break down the wall of loneliness and reach out to stay connected. While it’s important to discuss the implications of isolation, it’s critical to address ways to combat it. Though you may feel isolated, you don’t have to be alone. Here are a few helpful resources to stay connected:
- AARP developed the Friendly Voice Program. Sometimes, just hearing a friendly voice on the phone can help in challenging times. Trained AARP Friendly Voice volunteers will call to say hello. You can learn more at aarp.org/friendlyvoice. You can also serve as a Friendly Voice Volunteer. Call 1-888-281-1045 and leave a message. Someone will be in touch to get you signed up to receive a friendly call or to train you to be a friendly caller.
- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offers emotional support through the Stay Well program. If you’re feeling emotional distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic get free, confidential support from a Michigan Stay Well counselor. Virtual support groups are also offered. Visit Michigan.gov/staywell or call 1-888-535-6136 and press “8” (available 24/7).
- Senior Community Centers have a full calendar of events and activities that encourage friendships and socialization. These include lectures, enrichment classes, games, workshops, men’s and women’s groups all focusing on staying connected. For a list of centers, visit aaawm.org/services. Search your county and then scroll down to ‘senior centers’.
- If you’re more comfortable staying home for now, you can join a wide variety of online classes and webinars that allow you to tap into enrichment programs, educational webinars and group discussion. Find online programs at aarp.org/mi or through “Get Set Up Michigan” at getsetup.io/partner/michigan.
- Connect2Affect.org is a site that provides resources to address social isolation, such as an assessment to determine risk. The site also features a chat bot designed for friendly conversations and to guide people looking to rebuild their social connections.
- Stay connected the old-fashioned way by phoning a friend or continue to make room for Zoom calls with family.
Because loneliness is a subjective experience, it differs from one person to the next. Everyone needs different types of relationships or connectedness to sustain them and there is no one size fits all. Be sure to test out several ways to stay engaged. Your mental health will thank you.