Published: 30/05/2016 16:34 - Updated: 30/05/2016 16:59

Campaign wins high-profile backing

Written byVal Sweeney

NHS Highland's director of adult social care, Joanna Macdonald, is interviewed by P7 pupils at Drakies Primary.
NHS Highland's director of adult social care, Joanna Macdonald, is interviewed by P7 pupils at Drakies Primary.

THE Reach Out campaign to tackle loneliness and social isolation has received recognition at Holyrood and Westminster.

Launched by NHS Highland and supported by The Inverness Courier, the aim is to raise awareness of the problems and encourage everyone to pledge to make a difference and help someone who is lonely.

It could be something as simple as saying hello every day to an elderly neighbour to organising a social event.

Shona Robison, Scotland's secretary for health, wellbeing and sport, endorsed the campaign and pledged to do what she could to tackle loneliness in her community.

The issue was also highlighted at Westminster by Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, during a debate about transport.

Ms Robison said people in Scotland were now living longer, healthier and more independent lives thanks to improvements in health and social care.

"However, this means that loneliness and social isolation has become an increasingly important issue and we must work together to tackle this problem," she said.

"As NHS Highland's new campaign rightly points out, loneliness can have a significant impact on a person's health and wellbeing, as well as being distressing for those who feel isolated from their communities.

"That is why I welcome this new initiative and have personally made a pledge to do what I can to tackle loneliness in my community."

She said it was also a priority for the Scottish Government which earlier this year announced an additional £200,000 for community groups to test out innovative approaches to try and tackle loneliness and isolation in their local areas. It formed part of a total of £500,000 invested by the Scottish Government to address the issue.

Mr Hendry attended the campaign launch at Drakies Primary School in Inverness where pupils run a weekly community café, bringing together people of different ages.

He pledged to hold at least one constituency surgery at a Reach Out event in a bid to reach more people who might be lonely.

"I will also pledge to keep taking forward the issue of loneliness and working across the board to deliver as much change as I can," he said.

Mr Hendry told pupils and about 100 guests that he believed Reach Out would make a big difference for people who felt lonely and he praised the school and for its participation in the campaign.

A panel of four pupils staged a mock press conference in which they quizzed NHS Highland's director of adult social care, Joanna Macdonald, and the board's head of health improvement, Cathy Steer.

"The community café is a great idea, and its aims chime perfectly with those of our Reach Out campaign," Ms Macdonald said.

"It's all about making friends, being good neighbours and perhaps helping people in the community who may be lonely."

Ms Steer urged people across the Highlands to embrace the campaign and further enhance the area's already strong reputation for friendliness.

"There is very strong evidence that loneliness and social isolation can have a major impact on people's mental and physical health and wellbeing," she said.

"For example, loneliness increases the risk of dying earlier by 10 per cent, and it can have the same impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day."

Bill Alexander, Highland Council's director of care and learning, described the campaign launch as a "fantastic" coming together of NHS Highland, Drakies Primary School, the local community and The Inverness Courier.

"The sad fact is there are people in our communities who feel isolated or lonely and unhappy," he said.

"If they are unhappy, their motivation to be fit and healthy is affected. Opportunities like this encourage social interaction."

The Highland Community Planning Partnership has agreed to adopt the campaign as its 'breakthrough achievement for community planning', with the aim that member organisations commit themselves to attaining designated pledge targets.

If you want to help tackle loneliness, please let us know what you plan to do. Whether it's inviting a neighbour over for a cup of tea or volunteering at a local community group, we'd love to hear about it! Simply email newsdesk@spp-group.com with your name, where you live and details of your pledge and we'll publish a selection on our website. You can also download and fill in the coupon below (click link) and return to us at the stated address.

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