Jessica Duffy, Good Practice Mentor based at Leeds Older People’s Forum, recounts her experience of running training sessions on social isolation and the psychology of loneliness. 

Understanding the psychology of loneliness

Despite some initial hesitancy around ‘teaching grandmothers to suck eggs’,  I love running the Good Practice Mentor sessions on social isolation and the psychology of loneliness. My first introduction to the topic of the psychology of loneliness came when I started working on the Time To Shine Programme, part of the NLCF-funded Ageing Better programme which  was all about learning how to reduce social isolation and loneliness for older people.

When we reached the end of the programme, I was foolish enough to think that after 7 years, everyone in Leeds would know all about the psychology of loneliness and what they needed to do. Of course, I was wrong. Not only had I not in fact spoken to everyone in Leeds who might have needed to know (not really a surprise), lots of people had changed jobs and there were new staff to speak to. By then, we had also learned a lot more about social isolation and loneliness and had run a variety of projects where we put things to the test. 

All that meant it was time to dust down my ideas and pull together some new training to help people understand how they could change their practice to support people. When I started to explore what had happened since I started in the role, I found the extremely useful report from the Campaign to End Loneliness – The Psychology of Loneliness. It was so helpful, with enough academic information to explain what was going on in peoples’ brains,  and written in a way that was clear and easy to understand. Even better, it backed-up that understanding of psychology with case studies from many practical projects and campaigns across the country.

Leveraging knowledge and resources

I am someone who always does better when I understand why I need to do what I need to do. Over the past year – the first year the Good Practice Mentors have really been able to work with a wide variety of people from across the UK with well-developed training offers – it feels as though it’s really come into its own as a teaching tool. We’ve worked with lots of community-based projects, many of whom have come together around issues relating to the cost of living crisis. Through this, we have discovered that one of the things people really value is the chance to get together with other members of their local community and to forge new friendships. They have also come to us wondering why they don’t seem to be able to reach some of the people they thought might need help.  

As Good Practice Mentors, we’ve been really pleased to be able to offer both practical suggestions, and also, importantly the theoretical understanding of the psychology of loneliness. It helps groups change their practice once they understand why people don’t always respond to their offer of packed social events, or why they don’t come more than once when it was obvious they needed ‘help’.

If knowing ‘why’ helps you to do your job better, I recommend both some of our training, and also taking time to inform yourself by reading this excellent report from the Campaign on the psychology of loneliness

In the last 12 months, I have trained NHS staff, local authority workers, and volunteers from community groups. I hope knowing more about the psychology of loneliness and why it matters will help them to touch the lives of more people.