Even a single relationship that is built on trust can stop the cycle of loneliness

Mari Vehkalahti / Finnish Red Cross
Image: Mari Vehkalahti / Finnish Red Cross

A friend survey conducted by the Red Cross shows that volunteer friends help people trust themselves, others and society more. Volunteer friend visitor activity can effectively prevent loneliness and social exclusion.

Friendships born through these activities are much like any other friendships built on trust, the survey by the Red Cross reveals. A total of 519 friend visitor volunteers around Finland responded to the survey, which was conducted in December 2017.
Maaret Alaranta, the social well-being coordinator for the Red Cross, believes these results bring hope into the work against loneliness and social exclusion in Finland.
"Loneliness can be eradicated. People feel confident to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences with a volunteer friend. Both sides also feel that these relationships are close and deep in nature. The survey shows that people trust their volunteer friends," says Alaranta.

Without a voluntary friend many people would be completely alone

According to the friend survey, the main reason why people take part in friend visitor activity is loneliness. People in all age groups and situations experience loneliness. Reduced mobility and old age also cause people to seek a voluntary friend. 
"Loneliness is detrimental to human well-being, which is why volunteer work that reduces loneliness has such a significant impact on both individuals as well as society. Even a single positive relationship can stop the cycle in which a constant feeling of worthlessness is crushing a person and making them even more isolated," says Maaret Alaranta.
Nearly all of the friend visitor volunteers estimate that people generally enjoy their visits (95.1%) and that the visits have cheered up their friends (98%). As many as 82% of the volunteers also believe that these activities reduce loneliness.
"A lonely person often feels invisible. Being noticed and meeting with someone even for a short while reduce loneliness. The feeling of belonging and being part of a group is important to us all," Alaranta describes. 

The friend visitor activities reduce the feeling of exclusion

According to the friend survey, the friend visitor activities encourage young people in particular to actively take part in a variety of things, such as hobbies.
"Friends provide company and support to a young person but also expand the boundaries of their world. A volunteer friend helps a young person form ties to their local communities. The friend visitor activities reduce the feeling of exclusion, since they allow for a young person to feel they can trust people and be trusted in turn," says youth researcher and Manager of Youth Shelters Leena Suurpää.
"One noteworthy group that was highlighted in the friend survey answers is formed by those young people who have recently moved to Finland. Having a voluntary friend is particularly important to them, because their trust in society is weak. They experience injustice and exclusion in their everyday lives and might not have existing support networks. The whole of society bears humane responsibility for the everyday lives of these young people," Suurpää continues. 
In 2016, approximately 7,400 people with immigrant backgrounds received help through the friend visitor activities organised by the Red Cross.

The Red Cross is inviting more volunteers to participate in the prevention of loneliness

Approximately 9,000 volunteers around the country are taking part in the friend visitor activities of the Finnish Red Cross. In 2016, about 32,500 people received help from the friend visitor activities. Typically, volunteers meet with their friends once a week or once every two weeks.
The volunteers who responded to the friend survey say that the friend visitor activities are rewarding and provide their lives with meaningful content and joy from helping others.
"In order to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we wish to welcome new people to take part in the friend visitor activities. A volunteer can scale their participation according to their own life situation. The most important thing is that nobody needs to be alone," Alaranta says.
A total of 519 friend visitor volunteers from all over the country responded to the friend survey. The survey was conducted in Finnish and Swedish in December 2017. The previous survey was done in 2015. The purpose of the survey was to map the volunteers’ experiences from the activities as well as their observations about the everyday lives of people they have met.

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