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Loneliness in Canberra

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by Belladonna (subscribe)
Loves going out and about, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and writing about her adventures!
Published March 13th 2019
Nine ways to help put an end to our loneliness crisis
Once upon a time in Canberra, it wasn't unusual for people living on the same street to actually know one another. In fact, their children very probably all went to the same local school together. One of my friends recalls very fondly all the fun times she had growing up with the kids in her street. And my husband also remembers lots of cricket matches being played on his street with the other kids and everyone walking to their local school together.

Fast forward to 2019. According to a recent report published in the Canberra Times, Canberrans barely know the people who live around them, with just 4% of us actually socializing with our neighbours. In fact, 55% of us don't even know the names of the people who live around us.
loneliness in canberra

These statistics are not surprising. Our world has changed, Australia has therefore changed and Canberra along with it. According to Australian social researcher Hugh MacKay in his latest book Australia Reimagined, it's thanks to factors such as our increasing income inequality, shrinking households, rate of relationship breakdown, busy lives and increasing reliance on information technology that has made Australia a much more fragmented society.

And this is why we are currently in the grip of a loneliness crisis. According to a comprehensive report published last year by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University, one in four Australians are lonely, with one in four also experiencing high levels of social interaction anxiety. Lonely Australians have significantly worse health status (both physical and mental) than connected Australians and are therefore more likely to be depressed and more likely to be anxious about social interactions than those not lonely. Also, it is younger adults who report significantly more social interaction anxiety than older Australians.
loneliness in canberra

How then can we combat the scourge that is loneliness in our society? It is very easy to feel lonely in Canberra. In addition to all the factors described by Hugh Mackay, Canberra also has a transient population, with many people coming and going. And like everywhere else, Canberra can also be very cliquey. Whatever life situation you are in, whether you're new to town, you've been in Canberra all your life but all your friends have moved away, you're a stay at home parent or carer, you're living alone, or you've been here for a few years but find it hard to make friends, here are some ideas for you on how to feel a little less lonely.

1. Start with your neighbours.
The fact that most Canberrans and Australians in general don't have much to do with their neighbours is concerning. After all, we live in neighbourhoods, and yet many of us hardly know our neighbours or choose not to have anything to do with them! But you can change all that by just saying g'day to your neighbours when you see them on the street, or helping them to take in their bins, or even inviting them over to your place for a cuppa and a chat. Or do what my South African friend did and introduce yourself to your neighbours by briefly writing about yourself with your contact details onto cards then popping the cards into your neighbours' letterboxes. Connecting us with our neighbours is the goal of Neighbour Day which is celebrated annually on the last Sunday in March. And the theme of Neighbour Day 2019 is a very apt one: 'Loneliness: What neighbours can do to create connections.' To find out more about Neighbour Day and some great ideas on how you can connect with the people in your neighbourhood, go here.
loneliness in canberra

2. Join a Meetup group.
When I first arrived in Canberra several years ago, I was incredibly lonely, pining for the Sydney life and friends I had left behind. But then a friend I had met in a belly dancing class, Christine, told me all about Meetup groups. Created in the United States in 2002, Meetup is an online social networking site that brings people together in thousands of cities around the world. Meetup is made up of groups or 'meetups' which people create for many reasons, whether personal or professional. A meetup is created online via the Meetup website. But the interaction amongst members happens offline, face to face, in the real world. Christine encouraged me to join the Meetup group she belonged to, and so I did. And since then, I've made many friends and been to so many places in and around Canberra.

There are dozens and dozens of Canberra meetup groups which cater for all interests such as bushwalking groups, dogwalking groups, movie groups, book clubs, groups for women only, groups for single people, groups for people who love board games, camping groups and groups for people who want to practice their skills in languages other than English. Read more about Meetup groups here.

loneliness in canberra

3. Enrol in a class that interests you.
This is definitely one of the best ways to combat our loneliness and meet new friends. Whatever your interests, there is bound to be a class for it in Canberra. So whether you want to learn to dance or play lawn bowls, French or Mandarin, learn how to crochet or sew, paint, draw, cook Indian food, learn how to rock climb, arrange flowers, swim, make jewellery, or play the ukulele, why not enrol in a class or course? The Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) is a good place to start. CIT offers short adult courses covering a wide and diverse range of interests. Go here to find out more.
loneliness in canberra

4. Volunteer.
There are so many community-based organisations in Canberra that urgently need volunteers. Volunteering opportunities include retail assistants for Vinnies shops, education tutors for school children, playgroup assistants, drivers and helpers for aged care facilities, and mentors for young people. Why not use the skills you have to help others and make friends as well? Go to Volunteering ACT for further details.
loneliness in canberra

5. If you're a stay at home parent/carer, here are some ways to meet other parents/carers.
Staying at home and looking after your little ones can be a very lonely and isolating experience. So if you're a stay at home mum, dad, or grandparent, if you find yourself all alone in Canberra looking after children without the support of your own parents and extended family, if you never joined a Mothers' Group or all the members of your Mother's Group have gone back to work, then here are a few ideas to help you meet other stay at home parents/carers in Canberra.
loneliness in canberra

6. If you're a parent/carer of school-aged children, join your school's Parents & Citizens Committee.
It's a terrific way of meeting and getting to know the other parents in your children's school, especially if you have a part-time or full time job and don't have the time to mingle with other parents during school hours. If you've missed out on joining the Committee this year, then why not join in one of the Committee's activities and events held during after school hours or even on weekends? Check your children's school's newsletters and social media pages for details of any upcoming events.

7.Visit your local library.
There's so much happening in our libraries, from storytime for families, book clubs, author talks, and workshops to playing mahjong groups, board games groups, knitting groups, meditation groups and creative writing groups. To find out more, go visit the Libraries ACT
loneliness in canberra

8. Visit your local community centre.
Local community centres run many programs for the community such as classes and social groups and events for seniors and adults living with disabilities, as well as programs for youth, young adults, families with young children and school holiday programs. Go here to find details of your nearest community centre.

And finally,

9. Go to your local place of worship.
If you are religious, you will absolutely find likeminded people at your local place of worship, whether it's a church, mosque, temple or synagogue. If you haven't done so already and if it's at all possible, why not join a study or social group or social event that's being run by your place of worship? It's a great way to make new friends, after all.

For example, lots of churches in Canberra do a very good job of creating and nurturing a sense of community and belonging amongst their members. Find out about some community-minded churches in Canberra here.
loneliness in canberra

Loneliness affects us all. The consequences of loneliness are significant, with studies showing it can be as damaging to an individual's long-term health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It's therefore time we take steps to address our loneliness crisis by reaching out to our neighbours and our community and becoming involved in the life of our community. As Hugh MacKay said in Australia Reimagined, "What we need most is not wealth, material comfort, a booming economy, an unceasing flow of information and the latest gadget for accessing it-wonderful though all those things may be. What we most need is what humans have always most needed: other people, right there beside us."

loneliness in canberra

"Being by nature 'social creatures', we need to feel that we belong to strong communities, but those communities also need us. Neighbourhoods, communities even entire societies can lose their 'soul' unless community-minded people are prepared to become involved in the life of the local community. It's up to each one of us to take responsibility for the places where we live by engaging, volunteering, joining up and joining in."

Hugh MacKay, AO
Social researcher, author and Neighbour Day 2019 ambassador

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