Humans are, by nature, social creatures. As the Dalai Lama once said, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
This is not just a random statement; as it turns out, it is rooted in science. Over many years, studies have shown that our social interactions, and the quality of them, quite literally affect our health and happiness, as well as our ability to live longer lives. Without connections to others, it seems that we are doomed to shrink down into less-than-ideal versions of ourselves.
As we age, our social circles and opportunities for interactions diminish. This is natural; children grow up into adults and move out, taking retirement equals more time at home, family and friends move away or pass away. Health issues can also restrict our ability to interact with others.
All of the sudden, maintaining social outlets becomes more of a challenge. This is where the Friendship Line at Institute on Aging can really make a difference.
When Dr. Patrick Arbore first established the Friendship Line in 1973, it was born from a vision to keep older adults out of harm’s way. Suicide rates among Americans age 60 and older were on the increase, and Dr. Arbore saw a need for a crisis line for this societal segment. Thus, when the Friendship Line was put into place, its intent was to field calls from those in deep distress.
As time went on, a wonderful thing happened. Staff and volunteers for the Friendship Line were getting more calls from people “who just needed to talk.” Sometimes the callers had no one else in their lives and were feeling lonely. Others were facing issues with family members, including caregiving children, and needed to vent their frustrations. Others were feeling anxious about their mortality, health or some other concern. All needed one simple thing: someone to listen.
Today, the Friendship Line still functions as a crisis hotline as originally intended, but the majority of calls are “warm line” in nature, from individuals needing to hear a friendly voice and to talk about whatever was on their mind. It also handles calls from adults of any age living with disabilities.
Recently, Institute on Aging had the unprecedented opportunity to partner with the state of California, and specifically the California Department of Aging, to expand the Friendship Line to all older Californians. Together, they established a new toll-free line (888-670-1360) and trained a new, dedicated staff to handle calls on the line. The new staff previously worked for the Alzheimer’s Association, so they were already well-versed on the specific needs of seniors.
The partnership is part of the state’s dedication to better care for California’s aging adults, not only during the pandemic, but ongoing. It is estimated that 7.8 million Californians are 60 and older and that number is estimated to increase by 40 percent in the next decade.*
So, if you are an older adult or an adult living with a disability in California, and are feeling lonely, isolated, anxious, upset or any other uncomfortable feeling, pick up the phone and give us a call. We are here to help.
*based on data in California’s State Plan on Aging, 2017-2021