As the world practices physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic to protect each other from the spread of the virus, many senior citizens are left isolated and unable to see their loved ones.
That ultimately can have a negative impact on their mental health.
Fortunately there is a new initiative that can alleviate some of those stresses.
“A Friendly Voice” is a new telephone program being offered in Ontario by Rural Ottawa South Support Services (ROSSS).
Staffed by volunteers, “A Friendly Voice” offers residents of Ontario 55 and older a way to connect with others.
A Friendly Voice volunteers are empathetic, supportive and available for callers. Through their conversations, volunteers will encourage and support callers to engage with their community.
A senior in northern Ontario who wishes to access A Friendly Voice would simply call 1-855-892-9992. The service is available seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to midnight.
A Friendly Voice offers more than just someone to talk to. Volunteers can also connect callers with information on community programs that can help during this isolating time. It is, however, not a counselling service, distress or crisis line.
Any calls of that nature will result in immediate contact or referral to the appropriate responders, agency or service.
The Crisis Response Service is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week at 1-866-888-8988.
The Mental Health Helpline is also available 24 hours a day/7 days a week at 1-866-531-2600.
Research has shown that conversation can be a gateway for seniors to move from loneliness to greater connection and engagement with their community leading to better overall health and well-being.
The A Friendly Voice project is possible through a three-year funding grant from Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The program originally launched in the Ottawa Valley region in 2018 before then expanding to the rest of Eastern Ontario in 2019. A Friendly Voice was introduced to Northern Ontario just this year.
Statistics Canada reports that an estimated 1.6 million elderly Canadians feel lonely.
Loneliness and social isolation can lead to significant physical and health issues for seniors that are as concerning as obesity, alcoholism or smoking.