Social isolation across the generations

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When you look up social isolation online much of the information relates to social isolation in older people. This is of course an important issue as evidence points to links between social isolation and mortality in older people. It is going to be interesting to explore the results of the CommonHealth project 5: Age Unlimited, which, as mentioned in last week’s blog, will be investigating the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises for the over 50s which will include a discussion about social isolation.

I’m interested in the life cycle of the experience of social isolation. Having spent the last 4 years working with women in deprived parts of Glasgow, I’ve seen the ways that they have experienced social isolation, often as a result of lone parenthood and compounded by low income. In the case of my research many women have talked about a feeling of being stuck in the house all day, focussed on childcare and housework which offers them few opportunities for interaction with other adults. Often the cost of activities for children which might bring them into contact with other parents is prohibitively expensive. Even when activities are cheap or free there is the issue of the cost of transportation. One woman talked about the importance of the activities run by a community centre which provided her and her children with much needed social events, however the transport costs to get them all there when the weather was bad was just too much out of her weekly budget.

The women I’ve been working with are members Self Reliant Groups (SRGs) which have reduced the experience of social isolation by creating communities of women in which they are respected and supported. They are involved in small scale income generation in which they are producing a number of craft items for sale online and in local craft fairs. This has opened up opportunities for social interaction with a wider community beyond the SRG and has been a factor in the increased confidence of the women involved. Another group provides a lunch club service in the local community which has impacted upon the social isolation of the SRG as well as a wider community.

Many of the groups have come to agreements that mean women bring along their children to meetings and one group in particular have begun to set up specific sessions to encourage craft and activity workshops with children and mothers together. Women have talked about these groups as being ‘like family’ and are an important place for valued social interactions. SRGs have become places where women can relax and feel valued; this has increased their confidence and reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I have little doubt that this will also be found in many cases as Fiona embarks on her research with Age Unlimited. However, it’s possible that the factors that seem to be important to the women I have worked with may not be the same as those affecting an older population and it will be interesting to hear how and what is felt to reduce isolation at different stages in people’s life course.

There may also be questions for us to consider regarding the ways in which social isolation is experienced over the life course. What are the specific circumstances in which people experience social isolation and how does this change as we get older? The need for social interaction is vital throughout the life course but are there particular triggers or points in people’s lives in which this becomes more difficult? Identifying some of these events could prove useful in finding ways to support people during particularly difficult periods in order to prevent social isolation and allow people to remain connected to their communities.

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