Sunday Herald Sun

HOW YOU CAN HELP CURE LONELINESS

SPECIAL REPORT Australia is facing a loneliness epidemic with one in 10 Aussies feeling isolated. But with just one small act of kindness a week we can aid in a cure, writes Ellen Whinnett and Katy Hall

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SMALL acts of community kindness have been shown to reduce the impact of loneliness. An internatio­nal study conducted last year during COVID lockdowns across Australia, the UK and the US showed one small act of kindness a week was enough to start building social connection­s.

The study of 4500 people, carried out for community hub Nextdoor, found that knowing six neighbours was enough to lower loneliness concerns and reduce anxiety about the health and financial impact of COVID-19.

It comes as two of Australia’s most-recognised aged care providers join forces with News Corp Australia’s Never Walk Alone campaign to help end the loneliness epidemic. HammondCar­e CEO and former NSW premier Mike Baird said he hoped to create “a volunteer army”, which everyday Australian­s could join, while Bupa is ramping up its Visits by Mail program, where school children write letters to residents.

Bupa Villages and Aged Care Managing Director Suzanne Dvorak said small moments were “incredibly meaningful … whether it’s a close family member calling in for a chat, a volunteer taking the time to have a cup of tea, or a child dropping in a handmade card or letter”. Lead researcher and expert on loneliness Dr Michelle Lim from

Melbourne’s Swinburne University said the key to the small acts of kindness was they could be carried out by everyday people in the community and cost nothing.

“We asked people to do one act of kindness per week – go say hi to a neighbour, check in on an elderly person, run errands,’’ Dr Lim said.

She said one in 10 people had reported feelings of loneliness before the trial. One month later, that figure had reduced to 1 in 20.

The people taking part in the study provided emotional support such as cheering up or listening to a neighbour, tangible support such as mowing lawns and running errands, informatio­nal support, such as providing helpful informatio­n about local medical services or potential job opportunit­ies, and companions­hip, such as telephonin­g a neighbour or chatting over a fence.

Some contribute­d to larger community efforts such as collecting rubbish or volunteeri­ng.

Dr Lim said the global study was the first of its kind.

“It’s the first randomised controlled trial study examining the impact of kindness on loneliness and social isolation,’’ she said. “The fact that we were able to find changes – particular­ly with relatively small, simple steps that do not cost any money – is remarkable.”

The US researcher on the project was Dr Julianne HoltLunsta­d from Brigham Young University, whose groundbrea­king work a decade ago first establishe­d how loneliness impacted a person’s health, determinin­g it was as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The US-based online platform Nextdoor operates globally, including in Australia, and works by bringing neighbours together to build stronger communitie­s.

Around 40 per cent of all Australian­s in aged care facilities receive no visitors at all – a number that increased dramatical­ly during 2020 as states and territorie­s across the country went through various stages of lockdown.

We asked people to do one act of kindness per week – go say hi to a neighbour, check in on an elderly person, run errands

DR MICHELLE LIM

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