Older people without adequate social connections have an increased risk of poorer mental health and well-being which negatively impacts on their physical health and use of health services. In response to these ongoing issues, this project aimed at reducing isolation and loneliness and improving mental health of participants. Our social connectedness projects were based on a Compassionate Community approach.
Improving Social Connections for Older People in the Hawkesbury
In 2019, the Social Connectedness of Older People in the Hawkesbury pilot project held three Community Workshops in targeted areas of the region. Over one hundred professionals, volunteers and community members participated. A comprehensive report on the outcomes of the workshops has been produced by Synergia. Following the workshops, a steering committee was established, and three working groups were formed to progress some of the key themes identified by the community.
As a result of the workshop outcomes and committee guidance three strategies were developed:
- Health Connectors in general practice
- Community Connectors and Community Connector Points
- Website directory - MyHealthConnector.com.au
The evaluation report for the pilot project is available online.
Who is Involved?
Health Connectors are specially trained practice nurses who work one-to-one with patients and carers. They help people to develop their social support networks, especially those people who are vulnerable and at risk of ‘falling through the cracks’. This is a free service offered in 13 practices across our region. These practices can be found by searching health connectors in the My Health Connector Directory.
Community Connectors are members of the general population who know what services are available in the community and can share that information with people in need.
Training was provided to support the community be confident to have conversations around social isolation and use the My Health Connector directory as a resource. There are now over 100 Community Connectors in the region. Community Connectors can be of any background or profession – neighbours, volunteers, taxi drivers, baristas, retail workers. Anyone who has contact with older people and an interest in helping older people can volunteer.
Community Connector Points
Identified community organisations can provide face to face or telephone assistance for improving social connections and reducing social isolation of older people in the Hawkesbury, particularly those without internet access. The Community Connector Points built sustainability for the program beyond the pilot period. You can access a community connector points on the My Health Connector Website.
My Health Connector Website
The My Health Connector directory is populated with social support services and COVID-19 support services covering the Nepean Blue Mountains region.
Improving Mental Health Support for Older People in Penrith and Blue Mountains
In 2020 we commenced the Social Connections for Older People initiative in Penrith and Blue Mountains as a part of the Australian Government mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative aims to support older people who may be experiencing social isolation and/or loneliness by promoting connections to services and supports to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Similar strategies were implemented for this community group with the establishment of Health Connectors, Community Connectors and expansion of the My Health Connectors directory to support access to services.
If you would like to find out more about the Improving Social Connections for Older People or how you can become involved, contact the Community Development Program Development Officer on 4708 8100.