Scots each have an individual responsibility to help end social isolation by engaging in “acts of kindness” more often, according to a new national strategy on loneliness.
The draft document, published on Tuesday, is aimed at making Scotland one of the first countries in the world to develop a national plan to tackle loneliness.
A survey of almost 500 people carried out by the Scottish Health Council last year estimated that around 1 in 10 people in Scotland “often” feel lonely.
The problem is particularly prevalent among older people, with the Mental Health Foundation warning that up to 120,000 over-65s could have undiagnosed depression as a result.
In her foreword to the new strategy, which has been put out to a public consultation, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said everyone must play a role in tackling isolation.
“This is about more than money or projects,” she wrote. “The reality is that we all have responsibility to ensure that our communities are more connected and cohesive.
“Whether it is saying hello to your neighbour, taking the time to get to know a regular customer at work, reaching out to someone you haven’t seen in a while, or just a small act of kindness that can make a stranger’s day – all of this can go a long way to helping everyone feel part of their community.”
In a national survey of Scottish households in 2015, almost a quarter of people said they did not have a “strong sense of belonging” to their local community.
The draft strategy also called for more people to try volunteering, saying increasing participation in local projects would be “central” to fighting loneliness.
Levels of volunteering in adults have remained static since 2009, with just over a quarter doing so regularly, although more young people are now taking part.
People from wealthier parts of Scotland are also much more likely to volunteer than those from poorer ones, something ministers are keen to address.
Ms Freeman said loneliness and isolation could affect anyone, at all ages and stages of life. “The Scottish Government has, quite rightly, an important role to play but we want communities and society to lead it,” she added.
“We believe communities themselves are best places to ensure people who may be at risk of becoming isolated or lonely can access the support they need.”