Cara Japon, Adult carer lead from Action for Family Carers in Essex, shares her thoughts on how befriending can support carers who are experiencing loneliness.
Being a carer can be a lonely business. Loneliness can affect us all, and it doesn’t always mean that we are living life without other people around us – we can be in a crowded room and still feel completely alone.
Loneliness happens when we feel isolated – perhaps because other people don’t understand the responsibilities we have, or because we have stopped doing things we used to love.
Maybe we used to play football once a week but now can’t find the time, or being on call for our cared-for means we can never make it out with friends.
Whether we are feeling lonely, isolated, have stopped doing hobbies or generally lack confidence, befriending services can help. Befriending services are available by telephone, face to face and also by email. Think of it as a way to develop new connections or get back to doing something we love. We might even find new interests!
The benefits of a befriending service
A regular weekly chat with the same person provides the opportunity to have a ‘proper’ conversation and to develop a new relationship. Even if we have friends and family to talk to on a regular basis, it’s good sometimes to talk to someone new that may see things differently and offer a fresh perspective.
At Action for Family Carers, we often see that befriending can help to increase confidence and self-esteem among our carers.
With the support of a befriender, members often restart activities they used to enjoy – whether that’s volunteering in the community or taking up playing sport again. The benefits to both mental and physical health are numerous.
How to find a befriending service
Befrienders offer reliable and supportive relationships and there are befriending projects across the UK that offer effective support to people of different ages. Essex Befriends for example, offers befriending services to people over 18 years of age and who are carers, older people or those experiencing mental ill health or a learning disability.
Elsewhere in the country, Befriending UK is a great place to start, and Age UK also has plenty of options for the more mature readers among us. Befriending services are free, so we don’t have to worry about cost – befrienders are volunteers and happy to give their time.
For those of us caring for a child, then Home-Start UK can offer valuable support, if our child/children are under five years of age.
And if we prefer a group setting, then the virtual online cuppas from Mobilise are an opportunity to chat with other carers and build connections.
Feel secure in using a befriending service
We don’t need to worry about the person we are matched with, all befrienders understand the challenges that carers face. Here’s what we can expect:
Befrienders are all DBS-checked volunteers
They realise it can be difficult for carers to talk to friends and family about their caring role and that carers can often be socially isolated. They will offer understanding and companionship
They can remind us when carer support groups are on, and refer us back to a support worker if further support or information is needed
Befrienders aim to call at a time that suits us
What carers have to say about befriending services
If you’re wondering if befriending is for you, take a look at what other carers have to say:
“I get a call once a fortnight which I’m always very pleased to get. It gives me a chance to share an update on anything and everything and it can really fill your spirits knowing somebody cares. They really have been a Godsend.”
“Sue, a befriending volunteer, at Action for Family Carers, calls me once a fortnight and we have a chat for about 20 minutes. She’s very nice and it’s lovely that she phones me up to see how I’m coping. I’m always pleased to hear her voice and I’m sure if there was something I needed she would do their best to help me. I’m very comfortable talking to her because I think she is very understanding.”
We also have virtual cuppas which run from Monday to Friday. Join us for laughs, a fun chat and real deep conversations! If that is too big a step, visit our Facebook community to connect with other unpaid carers.
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About the author
Cara Japon is Adult Carer Lead at Action for Family Carers.