Covid has increased loneliness and isolation but kindness is an effective vaccine – Jane-Claire Judson

We’ve been living with a life-threatening health problem of pandemic proportions for years – even before Covid-19.

Loneliness and social isolation can have a serious effect on health (Picture: John Devlin)
Loneliness and social isolation can have a serious effect on health (Picture: John Devlin)

It’s as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, affects one in five of Scotland’s adult population and 35 per cent of those living with long-term health conditions. It’s called loneliness – and the coronavirus pandemic is making it worse.

This Christmas will be different for all of us. But as we sit down for our family dinner over Zoom, there will be thousands of people sitting alone. All they want for Christmas and the year ahead is someone to talk to, to hear them and care.

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This is the Christmas that we can all decide to come together to end loneliness and isolation for thousands of people in Scotland – by giving the gift of kindness.

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Long-term implications

The necessary restrictions to try and control Covid-19 have given isolation and loneliness a chance to spread. Scottish government research on the impact of the pandemic on well-being showed that four in ten people reported feeling lonely – 19 per cent higher than levels of loneliness before the pandemic.

Those living with disabilities are among the hardest hit being almost four times more likely to report feeling lonely most or all of the time. And people are worried about the future. Early results from our survey of people with chest, heart and stroke conditions show that almost a quarter of them are worried about being lonely or isolated over the next six months.

What makes these figures even more concerning is that the spread of loneliness will have long-term implications that last beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. Loneliness and isolation are linked to increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia and depression. We cannot let the long-term legacy of this pandemic be one of growing loneliness and ill-health. And this Christmas is the time we can all decide to take action.

Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland is proud to partner with the Together Coalition to launch the Christmas Together campaign in Scotland. The campaign is bringing together high-profile figures including actor Michael Sheen, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the Scottish government to make sure no one is alone this Christmas and beyond. And we need you to join us.

Become a Kindness Caller

Because you can make a connection that stops someone feeling lonely and isolated. Every moment of kindness matters. We’re asking people across Scotland to volunteer as little as 30 minutes a week to call someone who is isolated or lonely. It could be someone on your street, or you can join our team of volunteer Kindness Callers to be put in touch with a person who needs your help.

Equally, if you are reading this and know someone who is on their own please get in touch with us – help is available.

Think about it. What is 30 minutes of your time? It’s a little over two per cent of the time we all spend every week scrolling through our smartphones. Being a Kindness Caller will feel better than getting any share or like on your social media feed – and you will be making a lasting difference to someone in need. Someone like Patricia.

Patricia’s life changed in an instant. She had a stroke just weeks before lockdown. When she came home, her biggest fear was having another stroke at home by herself. She felt low and alone. But then she was matched with Sam, one of our volunteer Kindness Callers.

Not a soundbite or a slogan

The first call they had together Patricia cried. She says Sam was patient and caring – which was exactly what she needed. They have now struck up a real friendship and chat twice a week.

Behind every number in the loneliness statistics is a life, a person like Patricia looking to hear the voice of a caring person like Sam.

Giving kindness isn’t a soundbite or a slogan. It works.

Since the pandemic began, our incredible volunteers have delivered almost 30,000 acts of kindness in their communities, over the phone and online. The result is that 81 per cent of people who received help from our kindness volunteers said they felt less isolated and lonely.

And volunteers felt a positive impact on their lives too – 80 per cent told us that they felt more positive because they were a kindness volunteer. The health benefits of this kind of volunteering work both ways.

A groundswell of solidarity

During lockdown we saw how our communities came together to fight the virus with kindness. It was inspirational.

In the face of the biggest health crisis of our times, we reacted to all of the uncertainty and fear of the unknown by taking hopeful and concrete action.

People were delivering prescriptions and shopping, calling people who were alone and setting up community support groups on social media. At Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, we saw applications to volunteer quadruple almost overnight.

This was a genuine groundswell of solidarity. A moment when our focus was on community in a way we haven’t seen for generations. As we move into the cold winter months, we must keep that movement going – because more people than ever need our help.

A lot of talk around the virtual dinner table this Christmas will no doubt be about the Covid-19 vaccine.

But our communities have found something as effective as a vaccine for isolation and loneliness – it’s called kindness. And we each have the power to use it this Christmas.

Jane-Claire Judson is CEO of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, one of Scotland’s largest charities fighting isolation and loneliness.

Volunteers can sign up at Those in need of support can ask for help online via or can request a Kindness Call by calling freephone 0808 8010 899, with lines open 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

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