In Somerset, England, the local police found a way to combat social isolation.
Local police in the British community of Somerset wanted to do something to celebrate United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. While they certainly could have put out a memo about scams that victimize older adults, the police officers chose a project that was local, where they could see the change they’d enabled. Their “chat benches” debuted in local parks, where they encourage strollers to sit down and have a chat with a random stranger.
“The sign simply helps to break down the invisible, social barriers that exists between strangers who find themselves sharing a common place. We can all play a part…” according to a spokesman for the police department. “Simply stopping to say ‘hello’ to someone at the chat bench could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in our communities and help to make life a little better for them.”
In fact, nearly a fifth of older adults have contact with friends, family and neighbors less than once a week. In the United Kingdom, that amounts to nearly 9 million residents who are isolated with little social contact. In the United States, a 2014 survey on aging found 8% of older adults living alone who report feelings of loneliness.
A sign on each chat bench welcomes those who would like someone to stop and engage in some conversation.
“The Chat Bench is fantastic new initiative that I hope encourages those of all ages to start many more conversations in the future,” says Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens. “I encourage you to stop by and say ‘hello’. It really could make a huge difference to that person.”
New York Gets Chatting
On a related note, the city of New York is using city benches to change the way people view therapy and mental health. The Friendship Bench program offers peer-to-peer mental health conversations.
"That's all it takes -- it takes one conversation to change somebody's life," Helen "Skip" Skipper, a peer listener, told "Good Morning America.”
Steve Lopez, another peer, added: "I don't need your name, I don't need to know where you live, I just need to know how you are doing. And talking is the best way to alleviate problems in the future.”
These peers aren’t certified therapists, just ordinary people who trained for the program, which started in Zimbabwe. There, grandmothers in the community were instructed about how to support and listen to others.
"They told their stories and their depression symptoms went away, their anxiety went away," says Takeesha White, a therapist and the executive director of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York City.
Could it be that chat benches and friendship benches are the answer for a healthier, happier society?
Click below for the other articles in the November 2019 Senior Spirit
Health – Blood Test for Alzheimer’s up to 94% Accurate
Money – How to Keep Your Holiday Budget
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors