It’s no secret feeling socially isolated this year has been a challenge. With so many restrictions and so much limited contact with loved ones, being lonely in 2020 has never felt more overwhelming.

But what about those of us who were socially isolated even before COVID-19?

Open Support has been running a Visit Program for over two decades to connect with those who are socially isolated and help alleviate their burden of loneliness. Prior to COVID-19, the Visit Program consisted of face-to-face visits – for the safety of everyone, they have now been replaced with phone and video calls. Either way, the program is about having a conversation, benefitting from a listening ear, and sharing a nice moment or a laugh.

More often than not, what starts as a social call quickly turns into a trusted relationship.

For Social Inclusion week, we cast a spotlight on Patricia, a friendly and vibrant member of the Visit Program. Patricia, who used to work as a library assistant and stenographer, speaks on the phone with a cheerful voice – the kind where you can hear a smile -, even when she describes her challenges. A few years ago, Patricia became the main carer for her husband, who requires constant supervision. With her outings sharply limited, she started to feel the weight of being cut from the rest of the world. This is when she joined the Visit Program: Joe, an Open Support volunteer, started to visit her on a regular basis, helping reduce her feelings of loneliness and anxiety.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made life more difficult for Patricia and her husband. They find it very challenging to leave the house – even more than before. As such, COVID-19 has had an impact on many aspects of Patricia’s life, including the simple things.

“Before COVID, we could go out shopping: I’d go into the shops and my husband would wait outside, sit at a table. Now with the virus, I don’t like to put him in that situation. I haven’t had a haircut for a long time, I’ve been doing a trim here and there myself.”

Not being able to go shopping or getting a haircut may seem mundane, but it means a lot more than that. It means not talking to anyone outside the house, seeing days after days look alike, dealing with hurdles on her own. It means feeling lonely.

“My children help with the shopping and visit over the weekend, but it’s during the week that it gets quiet and a bit dreary.”

For Patricia, having someone to talk to regularly about things she is unsure of, even over the phone, has been incredibly helpful. Depending on the day, it can be chatting about ordinary life events such as a haircut (or lack thereof!), or more painful situations – for example, not being able to attend a funeral when one of her husband’s relatives passed away.

Whatever the case, being able to share what’s on her mind with a friendly voice has provided comfort and reassurance to Patricia.

“We solve the world’s problems in an hour!”

Patricia is one of 130 people we help here at Open Support, all with unique circumstances that locks them in isolation.

In 2018, 1 in 2 Australians reported feeling lonely at least one day each week, and we know it has gotten worse with the pandemic. This is why Open Support aims to continue and grow its programme; ensuring that, one conversation at a time, we lessen the barriers of social isolation.

For more information about volunteering with Open Support, send an email to: volunteer@opensupport.org.au

 

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