Psychosocial support for older people
A wellbeing project delivered by Second Step

About the project

Second Step works with older people across Bristol to help reduce loneliness and isolation. They help with access to local services and activities and by providing low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help people manage any pre-existing emotional or psychological issues that may be contributing to their isolation. Being lonely and isolated could also be the cause of mental health problems.

It can be challenging for older people who are lonely or isolated to access the support they need. Travelling around may be very difficult if they have reduced mobility, or don’t feel confident enough to travel. Talking about feelings and emotions can be very difficult at any age, and there can still be a stigma about discussing mental health problems.

Second Step’s trained Wellbeing Advisers go to the homes of older people, to give them space to discuss the things that are causing them difficulties. The Wellbeing Advisers work with older people to find practical, sustainable ways to reduce loneliness and isolation.

Nineteen older people were referred in to the service and of these, sixteen actively participated in the work with a Wellness Adviser. The pilot project helped make specific changes and improvements to lives of older people, now doing/enjoying things they weren’t previously, e.g. making contact with long lost friends, joining a choir or seeing family.

The Wellness Advisers also helped people to access additional services to address specific needs, such as talking therapies and other local organisations. They helped people helped acquire practical skills (e.g. using email and Paypal and paying bills online) and to manage symptoms of anxiety with techniques like learning relaxation techniques, challenging negative automatic thoughts and graded exposure.

A participant’s story

“Taking part in the project was really useful for me. Before I became involved with it I felt very dependent on others for things. I also felt lonely and stuck in the place I live. I didn’t feel I have anything in common with the other residents where I live.

“Now I am now able to use my tablet to buy things that I need to allow me to keep up my hobby - fixing up old electricals. I am also speaking with a LinkAge coordinator about the getting involved with some of their social events. I am now thinking about moving to some different accommodation.

I feel pleased that I took part in the project and I am grateful for the support. I feel a lot more independent. I am able to order the things online I need myself instead of relying on others who would often let me down and make me feel anxious. I generally just enjoyed having someone to talk to and have a cuppa with. I am also hoping that I will be paired with a Linkage befriender when the service is set up in my area, and plan to attend some film screenings in my area.”

Impact and learning

While managing the project, Second Step learned much more about the specific factors that can cause loneliness and isolation in later life. These factors can be physical (such as living with long term health problems or reduced mobility), emotional (such as mental health problems and feelings of vulnerability) and social (in terms of the lack of services for older people in some areas).

They found that the provision of services appropriate for older people is not equally distributed across the city, which can be frustrating for the older people involved but something that is difficult to overcome.

The meaning of isolation is not necessarily clear cut and some people who may not seem isolated on the surface are actually very isolated and vice versa.

We have learnt that offering a person-centred psycho-social approach works best. This needs to be tailored to the specific needs of each older person taking part, and a mix of Step 2 CBT, social prescribing and more traditional support work-style practical support would work best in the future.


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