Australia’s social distancing and self-quarantine measures during COVID-19 may mean many people, especially those unable to use or without access to technology, are cut off from their normal social support networks, leaving them feeling lonely and isolated.
For those living alone, especially older people, the lockdown can amplify feelings of isolation.
In response, CHAOS (Community Houses Association of the Outer Eastern Suburbs) have launched the Outer East Phone Chat – a toll free chatline where people can simply call up and have a chat.
The chatline (1800 984 825) is available to anyone wanting to feel connected or just to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the line.
A dedicated team of passionate community house volunteers and staff will arm the phone lines to lift spirts, boost morale and keep people talking.
CHAOS networker Maureen McConnell said all conversations with Outer East Phone Chat are casual and confidential, with friendly call-takers ready to talk about anything and everything.
“This service is open to anyone, and it is our way of making sure people stay connected. We’re happy to talk about your pet, the weather, or just be there to lend an ear as a way of helping each other through these challenging times,” says Maureen.
If the lines are busy, people are urged to leave a phone message and their call will be returned.
As well as offering a friendly ear, call-takers can provide referral assistance to services such as financial aid, family violence support, local service providers, and official government COVID-19 information sources.
Over 9,000 Maroondah residents are among more than 2.3 million Australians who live alone.
While living alone and being lonely are not the same, experts say the former can be a risk factor for the latter.
Psychiatry professor Neil Greenberg, who recently led a review looking at the psychological impacts of quarantine, says it’s vital to maintain social connections during isolation.
People with existing mental health issues or who have experienced mental illness in the past are particularly vulnerable to the effects of isolation, he says.
The chatline is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 1pm, and Monday to Thursday from 5pm to 9pm.
Residents can also schedule a regular phone call, email or text chat at a time that suits them.
“The Outer East chatline is free for anyone to call for a chat, schedule a regular chat with us, have a bit of time out if they are caring for someone at home, as well as to find out what their Neighbourhood Houses and community centres are still able to offer online, by post or teleconference,” adds Maureen.
The Community Houses Association of the Outer Eastern Suburbs (CHAOS Inc) is a network of 30 Neighbourhood and community houses and centres across Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburbs.