Around Christmas time I saw a Bisto gravy advert on the television that had a huge impact on me. It’s no secret I love gravy – I am Northern after all!! But it wasn’t the Sunday Roast that interested me, it was shocking to hear how many people were sitting on their own whilst I was surrounded by friends and family on a Sunday. For many, Sunday afternoon is the lonliest day of their week.
Social interaction is so important for our mental health. We take the little things for granted: being able to call a friend with exciting news, a smile from a stranger, laughing with a friend, physical touch.
I did lots of research after I saw the Bisto advert, I wanted to help too. The ‘spare-chair’ Sunday roast that was in the advert was only run for a limited period, but I found a charity called Contact the Elderly that runs tea parties on a Sunday all over the United Kingdom. You can volunteer to collect and drive guests, or host the tea party and provide a selection of sandwiches and cakes. Finally I was chosen to host a tea party last month.
The guests arrived in their Sunday bests; So happy, grateful and excited! We chatted over litres of tea and elderflower presse, and even had a special piano recital and sing along. It was a lovely two hours, one guest even told me it made her entire month, and another that since she had been attending these tea parties she had come off antidepressants she was given after the last of her best friends passed away. Another guest told me he mixed the dates up, and had been sitting in his wheelchair by his front door dressed in his suit and waiting for someone to collect him a week early. He was so excited when he finally arrived and told some outrageous tales of wonderful times thoroughout his life!! A truly special day. I would host every month if I could, but there are lots of hosts in my area making it unlikely I will be chosen again this year.
Luckily there are lots of things we can do on a daily basis to make a difference:
1. Reach out to elderly relatives and friends. Receiving a letter, postcard, photograph or phone call can make someone’s day. Show them you are thinking about them.
2. Help someone struggling in public. Give them an arm down a chair, offer your seat, or simply give them a smile. Even a small trip or fall can be dangerous, especially as we get older. A lot of elderly patients tell me they are afraid to go out because of the busy people rushing past and knocking in to them. Give people space to feel confident when then go out.
3. Research charities or events you can attend. Giving up even one day a year is better than none. It might seem like a small gesture on your part, but it can mean so much to others.
4. Raise awareness and educate others that social isolation is real. There is no place for lonliness on this planet, especially in a city as busy as London! Look out for one another.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and affects people of all ages. #endisolation #timetotalk