Fondation de France believes that loneliness must be dealt with as locally as possible and that problems generated by vulnerability should be tackled. We spoke with a local executive director and three program heads who shared their views on loneliness.
“Fondation de France’s local presence is a key asset in combating loneliness in all its forms.” Combating loneliness effectively requires meeting needs wherever they arise as well as involving those who bring innovative solutions and fight against exclusion. During the pandemic-induced lockdowns, loneliness became a routine occurrence. But for those at risk, poorer social and professional interaction and poorer mental health made matters worse. With the restrictions imposed by social distancing and the closure of many sites, the non-profit community showed extraordinary resistance and agility. It devised many new initiatives and developed new partnerships to adapt to change, carry on their work with the most vulnerable and continue their support, even remotely! These networks need our support, now more than ever.”
“The issue of social interaction and housing have always been linked in the Housing Program. In 2002, the first call for projects had two strategic lines: access to housing and a sense of community... Over time, these two ideas became more closely intertwined. We now only design projects that include proximity factors and reach out to the neighborhood. The program has three key leverage points. The first is to think of housing as inclusive, with the capacity to bring unlikely people together, such as a mix of age and ability profiles, for instance. The second is to promote self-reintegration for those who live in inappropriate accommodation and no longer dare to invite people to their home. The third is to encourage all existing connections between housing and neighborhood. Early on, this is how we supported key players in the sector whose initiatives are now recognized throughout France, such as Habitat et Humanisme which is embarking on a project with 85 intergenerational units! Currently, the pandemic is accelerating and worsening exclusion of all kinds, including housing. The program is being reinforced with new projects, especially to meet the needs of those most at risk.”
“The issue of isolation in elderly people remains acute: our tenth ‘barometer’ reveals that a quarter of all elderly people experience loneliness. The idea that families abandon their parents is largely unfounded. However, a number of factors combine to worsen the situation. The number of people affected by age-related cognitive disorders, which accelerates the trend for further isolation, is increasing. So is geographic mobility, as children leave their birth place, young retirees settle away from cities and families find themselves more scattered than before. Continuing digitization of our society is a positive force for interaction but it also leaves those who do not master it by the wayside. This is a ‘historic’ cause for Fondation de France: one of its very first major fundraising drives was on loneliness in elderly people, in 1975! Nowadays, our program incorporates the new challenges posed by the pandemic by systemically tackling the issue of loneliness in seniors. The idea is to support those who need help and those who help to guide people through end-of-life and the bereavement process, as well as to encourage the development of shared and inclusive housing, open to the city and to the community. In short, to think of a person’s last years in their own environment.”
“The period we are living through reminds us how much our mental health depends on social interaction. Studies from Santé Publique France (National Public Health Agency) show us that 21% of French people say they are depressed, compared to 8% in 2017! Loneliness acts as a reason for mental disorders as well as a consequence. Someone who is suffering from bipolar disorder, phobia, or anxiety might be seeing their friends, colleagues and loved ones gradually move further away from them. Enabling patients to maintain or rebuild human interaction is a core element of the road to recovery or at least the ability to ‘live with the illness better.’ This issue has been lying at the heart of the Mental Disorders and Social Life Program for the past 15 years. Solutions and strategies are evolving and multiplying. In the first instance, emphasis was placed on the person in their environment and the need to coordinate input from all stakeholders, including medical, social, cultural, family and neighborhood players, as part of a continuum. Very close attention has now been added to recognizing the people concerned, and their skills. For example, the movement for ‘peer-assistance,’ aims to fully include former patients into care teams. Their experience of mental disorders means that they can legitimately provide their expertise and help other patients, as well as mediate with workers.”