The Silver Line: UK’s Helpline for Seniors

By Mia Mullen, IAHSA

Loneliness is not an experience we seek—it is a condition that is caused by a series of events which simply “place” us there. In the case of an older person, it can be the loss of a spouse, children who have moved away, or a health condition that has limited their mobility—whatever the case may be, it has been proven time and time again that loneliness can cause severe physical and cognitive decline in older adults. It is simply an unnatural state for any human being— after all, we all long for social connection and personal meaning. It does not stop when you reach a certain age.

Still, older adults all over the world find themselves suffering from loneliness and isolation, pushed to the fringes of their communities, feeling over-looked and longing for a connection. In the UK, Dame Esther Rantzen–at the time a 71 year-old widow who found herself going days without speaking to or seeing anyone–decided to write about her experience with loneliness. She wrote a newspaper article describing her feelings of isolation and disengagement.  To her surprise, Esther received an overwhelming response from other seniors who were feeling the very same way. The letters caused her to speak out more publically on the subject—initiating a national dialogue which ultimately resulted in the launch of The Silver Line.

The Silver Line was established as a pilot in 2012 and later adopted nationally as a means to combat loneliness and depression among older adults in the UK.  The free 24-hour hotline for seniors provides advice, resources and friendship—any or all that is needed. It has become a lifeline for thousands of seniors—receiving over 10,000 calls per week.  The Silver Line’s slogan is “No question too big, no problem too small, no need to be alone.” As word spreads, call volume continues to increase.  Meaningful friendships and connections have developed through the Silver Line.  It is noted that they have “frequent callers” who are not just looking for support and/or services—but those who are simply need of a listening ear on the other end—a friend to to tell about their day, share their thoughts or have a good laugh with.

Not only has the line shown that there are a significant number of seniors in the UK who are living alone and feeling unsupported, but it has revealed an underlying issue which must also be addressed. To many of their callers, there remains a stigma associated with the experience of being old, alone and helpless—many adults in need of help are too ashamed to seek it. The helpline offers them an anonymous outlet, while providing them with the encouragement, support and resources they need. It is an unimposing way of providing help while inviting connection—without any judgement or shame.

Battling loneliness and depression among older adults remains a challenge in many countries. Older adults living in isolation may not always be able to actively seek out or access support. It is important that we continue to find and develop creative ways, like the Silver Line, to support and connect with seniors living in isolation and invite them into the fold of friendship, love and community.

How are you supporting seniors in your community who are living in isolation?  Share your experience and ideas with us!