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  • Writer's pictureEdward Garcia

Global Connections - First Issue

Updated: Aug 4, 2023



Our deepest need is to connect with one another: to live, love, support, and thrive. We have seen a recent leap in the belief in this value as governments and societies galvanise themselves to act. To find ways we can link and learn. To change how we act in communities, and to ensure that in public life we reach out to help and connect people. To leave no-one behind. To bring everyone closer.

The Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection (‘GILC’) is here for us all to work together. We share and learn about what works to help us feel less cut off, and more able to connect with people and opportunities. Armed with this know-how we can advocate for action, and take action ourselves. At the heart of this is knowledge and understanding, gathered through research.


Registered as a Not-for-Profit organisation, we are looking for allies. There are three ways to join and throw your weight behind this: voting membership; affiliate membership; and collaborative partnership. There are currently 15 voting members, each representing a country and active in GILC. We also invite organisations with a national footprint to join as affiliate members. This may work well where social connection is not their only focus. Thirdly we look to working partnerships where there is a specific area of collaboration, a transnational agency or government body for example. In 2023 our aim is to double the size of this movement !


Please join us if you have not yet done so. As we start Loneliness Awareness Week 2023 we will celebrate and share our energy and ideas. We will be frank about the ‘downs’ while we toast the ‘ups’. As one of our most inspiring champions, the late Jo Cox (a British Member of Parliament) said “we have so much more in common than that which divides us”. So let’s connect!


Paul Cann OBE, Chief Executive Officer, GILC paullewiscann@gmail.com Twitter @paullewiscann1


 




Groundbreaking new Japanese Legislation

Koki Ozora, Founder and CEO Anata no Ibasho, addresses the Japanese House of Representatives


A momentous milestone has been reached in Japan. The Act to Promote Measures against Loneliness and Isolation has passed in parliament. The government declares its responsibility in combating loneliness for the first time, committing to a dedicated budget in perpetuity.


Anata no Ibasho has been a key mover right from the start. Our lobbying efforts led to the creation of Minister for Loneliness and Isolation in Feb 2021. We were cited during the parliamentary debates on the bill. The highlight was the House of Representative on 26/4/2023 where we advocated an emphasis on this Act as an expert witness.


Now, what will change? Absolutely everyone is called to act, from the prime minister to individual citizens. The Prime Minister will chair a specific Cabinet Office Council, while the government will implement an overarching strategy. Local governments will then be responsible for designing and implementing measures that match local people’s needs. Citizens are to make efforts to understand the issue and help support those experiencing loneliness and isolation.


There will be collaborations between the state, municipalities, support agencies, charities, and other stakeholders. Local level work will respect those with livedexperience. Interventions will be better informed by the government’s surveys and new research. Civil society’s efforts will benefit from clear direction, better funding, and human-resource support. More people, especially the younger generation, will be more involved in creating a mutually supportive and inclusive society.


Lastly and most importantly, it is our hope that people with lived experience of all backgrounds - be it young people, LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities or those with disabilities - will feel connected through the implementation of this Act.


 


Making connections: insights from the Friendship Bench

Ruth Verhey, our GILC leader from Zimbabwe and Vice Chair of our Practice sub-committee


As our understanding of health has become more comprehensive, the importance of mental wellbeing has become more apparent. One of the major contributors to wellbeing is feeling connected to others.


The Friendship Bench, an evidence-based program from Zimbabwe which aims to support those who have symptoms of depression and anxiety. ‘Kufungisisa’ in the Shona language translates to ‘thinking too much’. Trained and supervised supporters offer active listening, acceptance, and a safe space while guiding the person seeking help.


The program has been implemented in various countries and local partners have helped to make language and cultural adaptations. People who reach out with a wish to implement the program all have a strong desire to create change in their community. Similar themes come up in the the lead up to the implementation process most of which are barriers to change: lack of knowledge about mental health, stigma, and missing support offers. When people do not know what could help them, they do not know what support is offered or they have preconceived ideas which leads to them not seeking support.


Those wanting to get involved in creating a Friendship Bench in their communities are highly motivated individuals who believe that all will benefit from this basic and structured approach in bringing people together. The power of holding space for a person and really talking together gives an opportunity to create an environment in which people feel seen and heard, therefore will be able to grow and overcome difficulties which leads to more resilient and connected communities.


 


A ground-breaking initiative from the USA

Eddie Garcia, GILC Board member and Executive Director Foundation for Social Connection


The U.S. Surgeon General serves as the chief advocate and guardian of the U.S. public’s health and wellbeing. They do this by raising a red flag to the greatest threats on American lives. There have been many warnings, advisories, reports, and recommendations throughout the history of the Office of Surgeon General (OSG). They range from highlighting the risks associated with cigarette smoking, methods for preventing the spread HIV, and the promotion of healthy physical activity and nutrition. Many Americans understand why these topics are chosen for inspection after the fact, and they appreciate the further scientific exploration of these risks by OSG.


On May 2, 2023, the OSG released an Advisory on the Health Effects of Social Connection and Community that highlights the significant negative physical and mental health impacts that social isolation and loneliness have on our society, as well as the positive and protective effects that social connectedness has on each of us. The report also highlights specific actions that can be taken by individuals, parents and caregivers, community-based organizations, media, technology companies, researchers and more to build more socially connected communities.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, GILC’s International Scientific Board Chair and a GILC Board member, was the leading author of the Surgeon General’s Advisory. The Advisory builds off of her 20 years of research on social isolation, loneliness and connection. Not to mention, the more recent advocacy work led by the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness over the last 5 years and the expertise and advisement of the Foundation for Social Connection’s Scientific Advisory Council.

Despite decades of research to identify the risks, impacts, and solutions to address a more socially connected society, most Americans have little knowledge or understanding of how and why having diverse quality relationships make the difference between surviving and thriving.


In alignment with other national efforts supported by the members of GILC, together we are seeing the tides of change upon us. The OSG Advisory is a landmark moment that it’s catalyzing awareness and an opportunity for each of us – individuals, researchers and practitioners, communities, organizations, and policymakers – to take broad based action across all elements of where we live, work, play and worship. The time is now for us to act, not just within the United States, but across the globe.


 


Reaching out to one another: Canada’s GenWell programme

Pete Bombaci, GILC Board member and Founder/Executive Director of GILC


The GenWell Project is Canada’s Human Connection Movement, which has been educating, empowering, and catalyzing Canadians around the importance of human connection for their health, happiness, longevity, and for the betterment of society since 2016. They share information, tips, tools, research, and motivation each day on their social channels and website, execute programming in communities, classrooms and workplaces and activate Canadians around strategically selected events throughout the year to provide an excuse and permission to Canadians to reach out to friends, family, neighbours, classmates or colleagues.


One such activation is their semi-annual GenWell Weekend, held each spring and fall, when research suggests that people may struggle with seasonal transition and would benefit from getting connected with others. By rallying all Canadians to connect at the same time, GenWell works to be the catalyst that provides an excuse and permission for Canadians to reach out and get connected with face-to-face others. How people connect is up to them, but having a catalytic period can help those who may struggle to reach out, act as a reminder for those who may have been busy or distracted and provide an excuse for those who have been waiting for a great reason to get connected!


 


Loneliness Awareness Week

Amy Perrin, Founder and CEO of Marmalade Trust


In 2013, whilst working as a health care professional, I started Marmalade Trust, a UK based loneliness charity. Whilst we were supporting people experiencing chronic loneliness to find new connection in our region, I became increasingly aware of the lack of understanding of loneliness, as well as the stigma attached to it. So, in 2017, with a small group of volunteers we started the first loneliness awareness week in Bristol, England. Initially we supported people to run events in their workplace, organisation or neighbourhood. The theme was ‘let’s talk loneliness’ encouraging anyone to get involved and start the conversation. When covid-19 pandemic arrived, we had an opportunity to trial a digital social media model – with huge success! Over the years we have reached millions of people across the world, with hundreds of thousands of people sharing their experiences, reaching out to others and helping us all to understand loneliness and the importance of human connection.


We are absolutely delighted that the GILC members are getting involved in the campaign this year. Collaborating and raising awareness of loneliness globally is key to us all being able to address the growing global loneliness issue, and direct those who need information to the appropriate support.


This year’s theme is “Connection Matters” and encourages people to harness small everyday moments of connection to support us all to feel acknowledged and less lonely. There are several ways you or your organisation can get involved. Check out the Loneliness Awareness Week website for more information and share your stories of connection.



 


What we’ve been reading

A small selection of research pieces from the many we have seen, selected by Dr Helen MacIntyre, Head of Evidence at the Campaign to End Loneliness


Exploring the experiences of loneliness in adults with mental health problems: A participatory qualitative interview study. This qualitative research used interviews to explore experiences of loneliness among a broad range of people living with mental health problems. Findings focus on the meaning of loneliness for participants, connections between mental health and loneliness and ways that loneliness can be reduced. Authors have produced a self-help booklet based on findings from this study and they discuss wider implications for research and for addressing loneliness among those living with mental health conditions.

Why loneliness matters in clinical practice: A primer for Clinical and Neuro-Psychologists. This article provides a strong rationale for psychologists to address loneliness of people they work with in their clinical practice. It sets out definitions of important concepts and reviews evidence including on: loneliness, mental health and well being; assessment and measurement of loneliness and implications for workforce training and practice.


The developmental course of loneliness in adolescence: implications for mental health, educational attainment, and psychological functioning. This 2022 article focuses on loneliness in adolescence. The research uses data from a study of twins to examine genetic and environmental components of loneliness for three groups: those who experience loneliness only at age 12; only at age 18; and at both 12 and 18. Analysis focuses on potential precursors of loneliness for these different groups and different associations with mental health and educational attainment. The authors discuss the need for early intervention to mitigate harmful effects of loneliness.


 

Get involved in the GILC community


We read as much of the academic literature as we can. But we also read books, podcasts, interviews which show the latest topical commentaries on loneliness and connection. And a recent publication which we have greatly enjoyed is ‘On Belonging: finding connection in an age of isolation’ by the Canadian Kim Samuel.

Kim is the founder of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, and is an activist, educator and movement-builder. ‘On Belonging’ is a rich supply of inspiration, practical stories about progress in bringing people together across the many barriers society erects, and a powerful polemic, about where we have gone wrong and how we could do better.

So here’s a pitch to all of you reading, please email us the title of the book/podcast etc that has most influenced you in this area of human activity. Any language, anything at all which has got you going. Let's start sharing and learning.

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