Feeling Lonely? Take the Talking Cure

December 20th, 2013

Nageena-KhanLanguage can be a barrier to social participation in UK, contributing to increased loneliness among people from ethnic minority groups, says Nageena Khan, Facilitator, Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness Programme, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communications, a vital part of every-day life. Without language how do we communicate? If we do not share a common language, loneliness can really affect individuals, families and communities. Culture identifies you with the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It shows you ‘belong’ within a certain way of thinking and living.

Living in a multicultural city means I see people from all backgrounds, cultures and religions. This identity is evident through dress, skin colour, practices and most importantly language. When there is not a universal language to share, this ultimately sets barriers between people and restricts their ability to communicate and make those personal and professional relationships. This severely affects self-confidence and can lead to frustration when information cannot be communicated and people feel misunderstood.

In a society where English is the preferred language, some people from ethnic minority groups really struggle to communicate and need an interpreter when communicating with professionals. Older generations from a South Asian background often rely on their children to communicate and almost ‘run’ their lives. This can lead to physical and emotional isolation for the older generation and a responsibility for their children.

There is often no one to talk to other than family and this can become more about dependency than enjoyable relationships. Not being able to communicate through language prevents new relationships being formed and restricts those relationships that are formed to those within the same culture. This keeps cultures segregated and does not allow for barriers to be broken. There are not enough opportunities for communities to share their different cultures.

The real key is to build personal and community confidence to reduce loneliness. Eliminating barriers will ultimately reduce segregation. Creating opportunities for people to be able to share their cultures and languages would help break down some of these barriers and improve community cohesion. Confidence allows individuals to feel more empowered and therefore able to be more proactive within the community.

There is a lot to learn from different cultures such as amazing cuisines, languages, dress codes and traditions and we should proactively embrace these as a community rather than being ignorant and then having to deal with issues that arise from cultural barriers. Providing as many opportunities for people to come together with a universal interest (for example cuisine) allows communication to take place in some form and gauge more of an understanding of different cultures.

The more opportunities that communities have to showcase culture and share their skills and ideals, the better the relationships between different cultures will be. Confidence will be instilled within multicultural communities if there is better understanding and this in turn will lead to stronger support networks and reduce loneliness and isolation overall. There will also be a stronger sense of community spirit and children will grow up learning about the values and benefits of a positive multicultural society.

Re-printed with permission: More Multicultural Community Events Would Help Reduce the UK’s Loneliness Epidemic. By Nageena Khan, Facilitator, Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness Programme, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Source: JRF Blog, November 13, 2013.

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