Community groups in Salford are integrating people back into society to avoid isolation, a major trigger for loneliness.
Loneliness has been linked to a range of damaging health problems, such as strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in both young and elderly residents.
As a result, Theresa May has announced a new strategy to combat loneliness, confirming that all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023.
The new Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch, said, “Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to.
“By bringing together health services, local authorities, charities and community groups we will raise awareness of loneliness and help people build connections to lead happier and healthier lives.”
The health issues that those suffering from loneliness can develop, are a factor that the Eccles Healthy Heart Club at the United Reform Church in Eccles focuses on.
The group was founded by Councillor Jane Hamilton and her father after he suffered a heart attack, and it provides a community for those who are living with effects of a heart problem, including isolation and loneliness.
Jim Clough, a volunteer at the club, explains how important community is to avoid vulnerable people falling deeper into isolation and loneliness.
“When you worry about things, and when you’re not dealing with things properly, your body releases various types of chemicals which affects your makeup and how your body reacts.
“We provide a connection to the outer world because when you’re on your own, your problems seem bigger than they are” he said.
Members of the group have all suffered a heart attack and as a result, are dealing with the ongoing effects.
He continued: “After you’ve experienced that kind of trauma, you need bringing back into society.
“By physically coming here, you can sit down and talk whilst having a cup of tea.”
There has been skepticism surrounding the Prime Minisiter’s new scheme and its efficiency as Jim Clough explains how more funding for community groups may benefit those suffering, “If you go and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about these issues, you struggle.
“They’re not in your situation, they’ve not had the heart attack or taken the drugs and they may not be feeling lonely, so all they’re talking from is the medical aspect.
“You need people to have empathy for the person your talking to, even if you’ve not had the exact same problem, to help assist in rehabilitation.”
With loneliness being as big a killer as obesity and smoking it can increase the risk of premature death by up to 30%.
This has resulted in the group prioritising stress management therapies and one to one counselling, bringing a positive atmosphere for members to discuss the ongoing issues in their lives, hopefully reducing the effect these issues can have.
“It could be the biggest problem in the world, but we’re always here to speak to, no matter what.”
The Prime Minister has confirmed £1.8 million to increase the number of community spaces like the Eccles Healthy Heart Club, available for local areas.
A member of the Healthy Heart Club explained how the group improved her daily life, but how GPs referring patients may help people access them more easily “GPs can be really helpful because it sheds light on groups like these.”
If any of the topics discussed have affected you, please contact MindInfoline on 0300 123 3393 or visit the NHS website for advice on how to handle loneliness.