Some ideas what to do when feeling lonely.
First: It is not your fault if you feel lonely. Pre-Covid19 in Malta 43% of citizens experienced some kind of loneliness. Being of older age is one reason making it even more likely. 58% of respondents who were 55+ were lonely.1 And surely the numbers are higher during the current pandemic. Probably many of us silver stars have experienced a kind of loneliness at one point in our lives. It is a societal challenge in many countries not only in Malta. In 2018 the UK government even added „Loneliness“ to the portofolio of one of its Ministers subsequently called „Minister for Sport, Civil Society and Loneliness“, probably a first globally. Loneliness can be considered a public health risk, another pandemic.
But what actually is loneliness? Hawkley describes it as a „distressing experience that occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired. The experience of loneliness is highly subjective; an individual can be alone without feeling lonely and can feel lonely even when with other people.“2
The causes for feeling lonely are varied and predominantly it is not the individuals fault. For elderly persons it can be the accumulation of different reasons. These can be for example the death of a partner, loved one or friend, a separation, becoming a pensioner, risk of poverty in old age, illnesses, decreasing mobility or the necessity to move into a residential home. For some the latter can even mean going into the closet again.
The numbers of people feeling lonely are high and the individual health risks can be serious. For older members of the LGBTIQ community it can be a particular challenge, considering that we often do not rely on the family but our friends, whom to meet is not easy given the restrictions which are currently in place.
What can you do when you feel lonely? Some ideas:
Take care of yourself - Be kind to yourself and love yourself, listen to your needs, make a wish come true, be mindful and use all your senses for example when outdoors. It will show when you feel good in your own skin. And that makes it easier to get to know new people.
Reach out - Corona requires physical distancing, which is difficult to handle for most of us, but it is a must! However, that does not mean to cut off social contacts. The wording „social distancing“ can be misleading. You can and should keep in touch with others. Although technology can never replace personal contacts it is an important tool. Contact friends or family members. Today there are so many means available apart from the good old phone and e-mail for example messenger services, apps. If you are not tech-savvy ask somebody to teach you.
The government set up a loneliness helpline which you can contact on +356 – 1772.
You can also reach out to the Rainbow Support Service (RSS) offered by MGRM (Malta Gay Rights Movement) on +356 - 79 43 00 06.
Structure your daily life - Without structure a day can become very long. Creating a structure does not sound very exciting but it helps. Set yourself small targets every day. Be active, look for things you can do in- and outdoors.
Go outdoors – Regularly going for a simple walk has many health benefits. It reduces stress, triggers endorphines, increases the metabolism, you get your vitamin D, it helps in case of muscle tensions and there is research that it even can slow down the development of dementia. In case your mobility is restricted reach out and ask somebody to go out with you.
Start a course – Learning something new can be very exciting, it is definitely never harmful or too late. When we are older we maybe need more time to learn but that should not stop us. Most of the courses offered by state institutions will start in October again. The applications for courses of the „Lifelong Learning“ programme start in July; https://lifelonglearning.gov.mt/. The University of Malta offers various part-time courses. Use the following link and click on „Attendance“ to find the course which suits your time schedule best (day, evening etc.): Study at UM - L-Università ta' Malta
The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) too offers part-time courses: MCAST Gateway to industry Contact the Office of Part-Time Courses if you don't speak Maltese. Maybe English can be used as language of instruction.
Obviously there are also numerous private organisations offering courses.
Become a volunteer – There are so many NGOs in Malta covering various sectors, from art, culture, environment, migration, sports and LGBTIQ only to mention a few. Often they need more than only donations but helping hands to assist in daily adiministration, projects etc. And there is scientific evidence that supporting others has positive psychological effects on the person who helps. Here a list of NGOs: Voluntary Organisations list - A (gov.mt)
In addition to the above we as LGBTIQ community should ask ourselves what we can do to assist our silver peers. There are many ideas, for example establishing a visitors service (home visits of two hours once a week), introducing a companionship scheme where two persons start supporting each other (e.g. the younger one helps with shopping, the senior citizen helps with study work) or setting up a digital-tutor-programme (helping the elderly using social media).
Who of our readers, young and elderly, is ready to make some of these or other ideas to become reality?
However, senior LGBTIQ can also set up there own self-support-group. Maybe its about time too?!
1Marilyn Clarke, Andrew Azzopardi, Jamie Bonnici: The Prevalence of Loneliness in Malta: A nationally representative study of the Maltese population. 2019, retrieved 14.02.2021, fswLonelinessReportwithoutmarkings.pdf (um.edu.mt)