In the past few years, well before the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness became recognized by healthcare providers as a public health crisis in the US and United Kingdom. Organizations sprang up in response to provide research, guidance, resources, services—and hope. The pandemic has galvanized new initiatives and drawn wider audiences to these organizations to address increased social isolation. Their robust response has been heartening as well as vital for clinicians, community leaders, educators, and others who are grappling with the pre-existing loneliness epidemic within the wider COVID-19 pandemic.
As a rehabilitation consultant serving highly isolated groups of people (those with disabilities and seniors who live alone), I would like to share well-established resources that providers and clients have found to be most helpful for tackling loneliness. The following resources are excerpted from my latest book, 400 Friends and No One to Call.
Initiatives and Organizations Tackling Loneliness in the US
Developed for people over fifty, this website is an ideal, user-friendly source for fighting social isolation, and helps people get more involved in their communities. It is a wonderful resource for learning about isolation and loneliness. This AARP initiative publishes many studies and opens our eyes with evidenced-based suggestions for fighting loneliness.
The Unlonely Project, Foundation for Art and Healing
The Unlonely Project hosts a film festival featuring themes of loneliness, and many videos can be viewed on their website. Their site also provides excellent reporting on research about isolation and loneliness, and informs us about conferences and symposiums on fighting social isolation nationwide. The latest in news and media about loneliness is here. Founder: Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH
Sidewalk Talk Community Listening Project
“Our mission is to nurture human connection by teaching and practicing heart-centered listening in public spaces,” their website boldly states. Started in San Francisco, California, this street initiative is active in most states around the US—in fifty cities and growing also in twelve countries. Volunteers trained to listen empathically sit on sidewalks with chairs in public places so people can conveniently sit down to talk about what is on their minds. This fast-growing project is also a great way to volunteer directly for fighting to end loneliness—right in your own community. Founder: Tracie Ruble
The Caring Collaborative (Part of the Transition Network)
The Transition Network’s Caring Collaborative is a constellation of women providing local assistance and peer support, and establishing lasting bonds. This collaborative provides “neighbor-to-neighbor” genuine caring so that people can receive hands-on assistance during times of surgery, recovery, and other medical procedures. The Caring Collaborative is growing and now has chapters in twelve states.
CaringBridge is a nonprofit organization designed to help rally support for a loved one during a medical journey, often to plan for hands-on assistance before and after surgery. A family member or friend going through medical procedures can create a webpage that is used to coordinate the support of family and friends across a wide network—an excellent way to organize and plan care with a circle of supportive people.
Health Leads is focused on social needs interventions in hospitals and clinics as well as linking patients to local community resources. Designed to serve isolated, low-income, and disenfranchised patients without family, friends, or resources to support them, the Health Leads data base (partnering with United Way and 2-1-1 systems combined) can be accessed by doctors, nurses, or social workers when a patient in their care needs referrals to local resources.
Partnering with medical centers in Massachusetts, California, and growing to other states.
Wounded Warrior Project: Veteran Peer Support Groups
(Resource Line for Learning about Support Groups: 888-997-8526 or 888.WWP.ALUM)
Tackling the social isolation of veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project organizes veteran peer support groups for thirty-five states and is still growing. Groups offer peer led meetings and events across the country, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
Village-to-Village Network (for people over fifty)
The Village-to-Village Network (V-TV Network) is designed for people over fifty as a way to live in supportive communities that provide social support as we age. This membership-driven, grassroots, nonprofit organization is growing strongly throughout the US, and many area agencies on aging (AAA, www.n4a.org) can help with access to local V-TV networks.
Stitch (for people over fifty)
This friendly, innovative, and fast-growing network is ideal for finding companionship and building community, and helps older adults team up for sharing their interests such as traveling, taking classes, socializing, dating, or just making new friends.
Women Living in Community (for people over fifty)
Founder Maryanne Kilkenny, author of “Your Quest for Home,” is a trailblazer in exploring alternative communities and shared housing opportunities for aging women. Her lively and helpful website is full of ideas, resources, and tips for finding house-sharing resources and contacts. Single women especially might find her site uplifting and useful.
Meetups are everywhere and offer a wide assortment of groups, mostly for fun and sharing our interests. There are also groups for meeting people with similar, more serious (and isolating) issues. For example, if you struggle with social anxiety, there are now 1,062 social anxiety meetups around the world. But even if you are not anxious or shy, there is a meetup for everyone. Whether you identify as a foodie, an indie movie aficionada, a dog-lover, a birdwatcher, or just a nice geek, there is a meetup out there for you—or start your own.
The Clowder Group
Joseph Applebaum and Stu Maddux are documentary filmmakers who are particularly concerned with social isolation and loneliness, and now in production with a feature-length film called All the Lonely People. They are an award-winning team who created Gen Silent, a film about the loneliness and isolation of LGBTQ seniors.
SAGE Services and Advocacy for LGBTQ Elders
LGBTQ seniors are twice as likely to live alone and more vulnerable to isolation. This nationwide organization provides training, advocacy, and support.
Organizations Tackling Loneliness in the United Kingdom
Campaign to End Loneliness, United Kingdom
Their mission is to increase awareness of loneliness and to address the underlying causes of loneliness in older individuals throughout the United Kingdom. This campaign began with a “befriending” initiative to train staff and volunteers to provide companionship to isolated adults. This website offers comprehensive as well as inspiring research and resources for fighting loneliness and building community.
Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, United Kingdom
In January 2018, the UK appointed their own Minister of Loneliness to lead the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. This position was created when Britain recognized how loneliness had become a serious health hazard.
MUSH, United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, there is an app for mothers of young children to build social networks and organize small groups for chatting and connecting. “An easy and fun way for mums to find friends.” Cofounders: Sarah Hesz, Katie Massie-Taylor
Befriending Networks, United Kingdom
Befriending networks offer supportive, reliable relationships through volunteer befrienders to people who would otherwise be socially isolated.
UK Men’s Sheds Association
This is a fast-growing movement in the UK for the benefit of men’s health and well-being. There are well over 550 men’s groups throughout the UK.