An article from the July edition of the CIGB newsletter by Val Dalton
“The effect of a lack of social relationships on mortality is similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
The Health Statistic comes from a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society, researched by Faith Action. The report looks at the contribution to society by faith-based organisations into communities that are often marginalised.
The case study from CIGB Workplace Chaplaincy interested the researchers particularly, because it pointed to an often overlooked place of loneliness – the workplace. As more people work in the ‘gig economy’, isolation is a growing problem for working people.
In the foreword to the report, Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the APPG on Faith and Society, writes
“The UK is suffering a loneliness epidemic. Loneliness affects people of all ages. It is heartbreaking. It is often hidden, and faith groups have a vital part to play. Faith groups are deeply rooted in the community and are in it for the long haul. They address emotional and spiritual needs. They are uniquely well-placed to respond to loneliness and social isolation…”
Most of the articles included in the report are about wonderful faith initiatives that people attend – i.e. the lonely people actually have to cross the threshold of the faith organisation – and this can often be the most difficult thing: particularly if being lonely has resulted in all kinds of negative thoughts about yourself.
Peter Sellick wrote an article for the report describing the work of CIGB Chaplains who, as we know, go out into the working community rather than expecting the community to come to us.
There is sometimes a misconception about loneliness being something that only the elderly experience. But the report quotes from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness which found that over 9,000,000 people said they are always or often lonely: people of all ages and in all walks of life.
The relationships that Chaplains build with the people they visit can be so important, particularly in those industries where people work long anti-social hours, on their own: transport, logistics, retailing, hospitality. Chaplains often hear ‘I’m so glad to see you—you’re the first person I’ve spoken to all day.’
Some of the bus-drivers our chaplains meet are single people, working on their own, at times which are frequently difficult—traffic, angry passengers… Retail workers in smaller shops are often on their own for long hours. But of course, Chaplains will stop for a chat because that’s what they do.
People can be ‘isolated’ even in relationships: Chaplains find that people talk about bereavement, family worries, debt, illness etc in a way that they find difficult if talking to family members or colleagues. Chaplains offer chat and relationship that is a ‘safe place’.
You can read the APPG report at faithaction.net.