By COLIN ARMSTEAD, SERVICES DIRECTOR AT GEORGE HOUSE TRUST
Feelings of loneliness and social isolation were reported by a significant number of people in our recent service user survey – perhaps not surprising given the lockdowns and restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19.
However, we know from the research into this particular area that experiencing loneliness and social isolation are significant life factors for some people living with HIV - even without the imposed restrictions of a global pandemic.
There’s a clear link between HIV stigma, poor mental health and often, as a result, social isolation. Although experiencing loneliness isn’t a mental health condition in itself, it can have a serious impact on someone’s mental health.
We all need to feel connected and part of a greater whole. For some, HIV stigma can impact in a way which magnifies feelings of separation, otherness and ultimately loneliness.
Whilst HIV stigma can play a significant part in compounding feelings of loneliness, it may not be the most significant factor for people living with HIV who feel lonely or socially isolated. Loneliness is an experience and not something which defines a person’s identity. We need to be able to talk about loneliness openly and honestly.
At George House Trust, we’re very aware of the loneliness and social isolation experienced by some people who use our services and we have a number of services to help people feel more connected.
Amongst other services, our Age+ Project for people living with HIV who are aged over 55, our Calabash project for African men living with HIV and our wide programme of group events are some of the ways we support people to build-up their social networks and feel more socially connected.
Our Telephone Buddies make regular calls to people for a chat and catch up. Our Peer Mentors ensure that people living with HIV don’t feel alone. Our Services Advisers provide essential one to one support.