By Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer Relationships Australia
Today Neighbour Day is issuing a Loneliness Challenge to all Australians. We are asking everyone to help end loneliness in their neighbourhood by committing to create a connection with someone in their local community each week this March.
It could be a small action – a few friendly words across the back fence, inviting an elderly neighbour in for a cuppa, organising a community get-together, or stopping for a chat when walking the dog.
It could be a grand gesture – organising a big neighbourhood BBQ, engaging the neighbours in a street fair, putting on a community concert.
This year, our theme for Neighbour Day is ‘loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections’. The theme builds on the work done by Relationships Australia in 2018 to raise awareness of the loneliness crisis facing Australia.
Relationships Australia’s research found that one in ten people lack social support or connection and one in six are experiencing emotional loneliness. Alarmingly, just under 1.5 million Australians are reporting that they’ve experienced loneliness for a decade or more.
Single parents, particularly single fathers, are most likely to experience the key indicators of loneliness with almost 40% of younger fathers reporting a lack of social support and more than 40% reporting emotional loneliness.
Other key findings of the research were that widowed men and women under 65 years of age also report high rates of loneliness, while people in de facto relationships reported they were lonelier than people in other relationship types.
People with poorer health were also more likely to report higher rates of emotional loneliness and a lack of social support.
The consequences of loneliness are significant, with studies showing it can be as damaging to an individual’s long-term health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
It is therefore time Australia took the challenge to end its epidemic of loneliness.
At Neighbour Day, we believe that we can all take steps to help address this loneliness crisis and the best place to start is by reaching out to our neighbours and to help them find connections in our local communities.
We are enlisting the help of our Neighbour Day Ambassadors to provide some inspiration on how you can take on the Loneliness Challenge and we will be providing some tips of our own via social media, right through the month of March, in the lead up to Neighbour Day on 31 March 2019.
So check out our social media posts each day for some inspiration or come up with your own ideas and share them with us. We’d love to hear about your stories of connection with your local community and how neighbours can work together to support people out of loneliness.
Personally, I know that for my partner and I, the trials associated with entering parenthood for the first time just a couple of years ago tested even the strongest of our social connections, and if it not for a number of understanding and supportive neighbours, as well as our dedicated family and friends, our townhouse could easily have felt like a prison as we grappled with the highs and lows of bringing home a newborn. Small gestures as simple as a plate of home-baked cinnamon scrolls, or even a friendly reassurance over the fence that the cries of our newborn were not in fact keeping everyone on the street awake, were enough to keep us going on some of the longest days!
Connection can be simple like this, but is so important and for this reason I hope everyone will rise to the Neighbour Day Loneliness Challenge in 2019!
Nick Tebbey is National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia
See the findings from Relationships Australia’s report on Australia’s experience of loneliness, taken from 16 waves of the HILDA survey.