On Valentine’s Day (14 February) at 8:30pm, SBS Viceland will bring to light an important issue that many people in Australia struggle with – loneliness. The segment will feature Mission Australia’s Connections Program which links socially isolated people to find friendship and confidence in the community. Since it opened in August 2017, the Connections program has helped over 90 people struggling with loneliness and mental health in Broken Hill, NSW.

Many people who participate in the program are hesitant to reach out to friends or afraid to go out and make new ones because of illness or other barriers. It can feel especially daunting for people to go out on their own.

Operating after hours and on weekends, the Connections Program is the only program of its kind in the region. The concept began as an innovative collaboration between Mission Australia and Far West Health to address a local need and reduce emergency room admissions and presentations after hours. One aspect that makes the program unique is that it is completely run by peer support workers. Peer support workers are people who have lived experience of dealing with mental health issues themselves or have supported someone close to them with mental health issues.

“This has really contributed to the program success with participants saying they feel there is a shared journey amongst the group and the staff contribute to that feeling,” program manager, Jenna Bottrell

When the show airs on SBS Viceland’s “The Feed” on Valentine’s Day, viewers will have the chance to hear from program participants who share their personal experiences of loneliness. But for a group of people who have struggled with isolation, speaking in front of a camera crew was no small accomplishment.

“They all commented that they wouldn’t have done this 18 months ago, but have grown so much over time by coming to Connections. They now feel confident and supported in the community,” Jenna

For the five people who most frequently attended Connections in the first six months it was open, visits to the Emergency Department for mental health support were reduced by 80 percent. They also had a 65 percent reduction in admissions to the hospital for mental health issues. Overall, this reduced local health district service costs by almost $761,000.

By featuring the service on SBS, the hope is that other people will be helped – whether through hearing encouraging stories, inspiring similar programs or gaining long-term funding for Connections.

“It was an amazing experience spending the day with the SBS film crew,” Jenna said. “It was the first time I had done anything like that and was so nervous but proud to get the word out there about the effects of loneliness and the benefits of social programs like Connections.”

Here’s what some of the participants have to say about the program:

“Connections is like my lifeline. It gets me out of the house and gives me something to do as I cut the world off being depressed.”
“I get a lovely calm feeling when I’m with the group. We laugh, we engage in lots of things about our health! We help each other out in many ways…”
“At Connections the workers are very kind and helpful and are good at doing their jobs. They help us out in a lot of ways and it’s good to stay away from alcohol and drugs.”
“Connections means to me I can make new friends and it also gets me out of the house. It is a safe place I can have a laugh.”
“Before Connections, I pretty much stayed in my room. My best friend in Adelaide pushed me to go to Connections and I am grateful he did. I now go every weekend, except when I go to Adelaide to visit my friends.”

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Purpose - 'Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God'