Red Cross launches COVID CONNECT in response to sharp increase in social isolation

Australian Red Cross has launched a new national telephone service for the COVID-19 pandemic to help build connections as home isolation forced by the pandemic brings a sharp increase in people reporting feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Red Cross Chief Executive Judy Slatyer says COVID CONNECT provides new social links with plans for tens of thousands of telephone calls being made between trained Red Cross volunteers and those who want a friendly chat.

“COVID CONNECT offers people the ability to just talk to someone through a social chat; to learn ways to improve on their current level of social connection, and better connect in with their community. Unfortunately many people don’t have good social networks to draw from, so this is designed to fill that void.

“While people will be thinking about getting back to work soon, physical distancing and other constraints will be around for quite some time. People can opt in to receive a call by registering on our website ,” she says. ‘They can choose how often they’d like to receive the calls – whether that’s daily or several times a week.

“Since the pandemic began we’ve made tens of thousands of calls to people home alone during the pandemic, as well as helping the most vulnerable with meals, hygiene items and vital information. COVID CONNECT builds on our long experience of providing outreach to people experiencing vulnerability across Australia. Red Cross already makes more than a million wellbeing phone calls a year to people who are elderly and living alone. We’re now expanding our phone services with this entirely new service during the pandemic to reach thousands more Australians who are feeling isolated at this time.

“We know there is increased despair, fear and loneliness in Australian society right now as our very way of life has been forced to rapidly change due to this pandemic. Red Cross has moved swiftly to expand our telephony technology and train volunteers to help address the concerns people are feeling. The service has a range of features including the ability to escalate support or bring in an interpreter if required.

“We also know that people want to do more to help during this crisis situation. Being a volunteer COVID CONNECT caller is of just as much value to the volunteers as it is the people receiving the calls. The best way through this pandemic is to harness the power of people and COVID CONNECT will help build community resilience to do this.

“Social isolation, along with disruptions to our sense of connection can greatly impact our health, wellbeing and happiness. Research has shown that being cut off from our regular social networks and activities, losing our mobility, employment, or having new health issues such as we’re living through now, can have a negative impact on our mental health and can lead to an increase in loneliness, anxiety and depression with social connection a great preventive measure.

“We are already seeing the impact that self-isolation is having on the mental health of Australians. Counselling services are reporting record calls as people struggle to cope with the anxiety prompted by COVID-19, reporting that most of the anxiety was not about potentially becoming sick with the virus, but about the sudden social isolation being forced on many.”

Ms Slatyer says COVID CONNECT is different to existing telephone services, and fills a pressing gap. “The excellent existing support services’ primary goals are supporting people with their welfare and mental health wellbeing. Red Cross has found in recent research with the Swinburne Social Innovation Research Institute that social connection has the power to positively affect our health and wellbeing, nurturing community development and providing resilience during times of crisis.”

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