A ground‐breaking new program combatting loneliness and social isolation in the Port Macquarie‐Hastings region is just what the doctor ordered.
Funded by Healthy North Coast, a local not‐for‐profit organisation delivering the Australian Government’s Primary Health Network Program, the ‘Healthy Me Healthy Community’ initiative aims to support, encourage, and empower locals to rediscover their passions and find new social outlets to boost their mental health and wellbeing.
Healthy North Coast Chief Executive, Monika Wheeler, said the free 15‐week program was based on a concept called ‘social prescribing’ – a global movement which takes a non‐clinical approach to combatting the mental and physical effects of loneliness and poor ‘social health’, two factors which can be a major contributor to chronic illness.
‘Increasing social opportunities and purposeful activities is more important than ever after COVID‐19 measures, such as lockdowns and physical isolation, which impacted people’s ability to connect with others, and in turn, their overall wellbeing,’ Ms Wheeler said.
Feros Care is delivering the pilot program, set to roll out over the next 12 months with a goal of supporting 300 participants with tailored social and group activities until June 2024.
Feros Care Head of Fundraising and Supporter Relationships, Jo Winwood, said the program takes a holistic view of people’s health and wellbeing by offering meaningful ‘social prescriptions’ like volunteering, social groups, arts, cultural events and exercise to help people feel connected and a sense of belonging.
‘We address the root cause of ill health caused by poor social connections, rather than treating the symptoms,’ Ms Winwood said.
‘This helps people understand their individual social needs and connect with the things that matter to them, to support their return to good health,’ she said.
Recently, Mayo Private Hospital referred Jeff, 70, to the Healthy Me Healthy Community program to help him improve his social connections and give him more purpose during retirement.
During time as an electrical trades TAFE teacher, Jeff gained extensive experience teaching woodwork. The ‘Healthy Me Healthy Community’ Wellbeing Coach secured a volunteer position for Jeff in the local Community College’s workshop.
‘Spending time with people energises me and the program has given me a purpose. I’m doing 2 days a week, which is enough for the time being. It’s great that I can dictate my own times and work the hours that suit me best,’ said Jeff.
‘It’s very early days of course, but I’m feeling very positive, and the world is my oyster,’ Jeff said.
Ms Wheeler urged community members seeking to boost their mental health and wellbeing to speak with their GP or visit feroscare.com.au/healthyme to learn more about the Healthy Me Healthy Community Program.
‘The program is also recruiting for Community Connector Volunteers and Community Ambassadors to support and guide participants. Sometimes, that one‐to‐one support makes all the difference,’ said Ms Wheeler.
To sign up as a participant or volunteer, head to feroscare.com.au/healthyme or call 1300 987 215 for more information.