Over the Easter long-weekend, as with many other holidays there can be a sense of obligation to enjoy oneself.
Long family lunches, picnics, egg hunts or weekend getaways seem to be on the agenda for many. While the merry among us are off celebrating, I urge you to spare a thought for the lonely.
Signalled as Australia's next public health crisis, a 2018 study by Swinburne University found one in four of us report feeling lonely at least one day a week. And, these feelings of loneliness can intensify over times of festivity.
Despite our seemingly ultra-connected lives, a staggering number of us experience a distinct lack of meaningful social connection. Loneliness can affect more than just our mood and can be damaging to our health.
According to the Swinburne study, lonely Australians have worse physical and mental health, and are 15% more likely to be depressed than those who are not lonely.
Loneliness has also been found to increase our likelihood of earlier death by 26%.
Older people can be particularly at risk of loneliness due to major lifestyle changes and personal losses associated with later life.
Moving house, losing your drivers licence, retirement, redundancy or the death of a partner, can be isolating life events.
Decreased mobility and/or an increased need for assistance due to illness or disability, becoming a carer for a partner coupled with a lack of adequate support can also exacerbate feelings of disconnectedness.
Loneliness is something that lots of people go through but it does not have to be an inevitable part of ageing.
There are many things we can do for ourselves and others to ward off loneliness by expanding and strengthening our social support systems.
Making an effort to nurture strong ties with family, friends and the community can provide us with happiness, security, support and a sense of purpose. In-person social interaction can have an immense impact for countering the creep of loneliness for all parties involved.
Read more: Loneliness to be discussed in parliament
Helping someone with the groceries, opening the door for others, visiting a neighbour, giving a compliment, smiling more and making eye contact all strengthen our feelings of social connectedness.
With our noisy and busy lives it's important to make room for the older people in our communities.
We all have a responsibility to reach out and create opportunities for meaningful connections. Invite ageing loved ones or an elderly neighbour over for a cuppa.
Find a shared interest that you can enjoy together, be it reading, painting, discussing the news or even the latest neighbourhood gossip.
Loneliness can affect more than just our mood and can be damaging to our health.
For older friends and relatives who live far away, send a handwritten card to let them know you're thinking of them.
It's not just about what we can do as individuals, governments and organisations are responding to the crisis.
In 2018, the UK appointed a Minister for Loneliness following a report that found more than nine million people in Britain often or always feel lonely.
Also in 2018, the Australian Government committed $46.1 million to the Community Visitors Scheme that helps local organisations across the country combat loneliness and social isolation for older Australians.
Other innovative measures are emerging to help address the growing incidence of loneliness and social isolation. Intergenerational playgroups are gaining momentum as a heart-warming way to forge meaningful connections across three generations.
Popping up throughout the country, these playgroups allow for aged care centre residents, parents and carers along with their toddlers and babies to mix and delight in play.
IRT Moruya has recently started holding an intergenerational playgroup, which has so far been very well received.
Universities are also looking at ways to promote meaningful interactions across generations. James Cook University announced plans earlier this year to open a retirement village and aged care centre on their Townsville campus.
Locally, the University of Wollongong is working with Lendlease to develop a precinct that will integrate patient-centred healthcare, residential aged care, independent retirement living, childcare and recreation.
We can all benefit from taking opportunities to integrate more with the people in our communities. As humans, we are innately social and are driven to seek deep social connections that nurture and protect our wellbeing.
This Easter long weekend, I challenge us all to unplug from our busy lives and take a moment to engage more with the people around us.
Patrick Reid is IRT Group CEO
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