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Red Cross Doing it Tough appeal: loneliness and isolation impact on health and wellbeing

Trish Ross's life was saved by a Red Cross program which helps her out with a daily phone call.

Trish Ross’s life was saved by a Red Cross program which helps her out with a daily phone call. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Trish Ross was unable to get up. Stuck on the cold bathroom floor where she had fallen after becoming violently sick, the Caringbah woman in her late 80s had a bleeding arm and leg, and was convinced she was about to die alone. 

“I lay there for a little while longer and I thought if I pulled myself up on the toilet, but when I got to the toilet I couldn’t even reach it,” said Ms Ross.  “I knew my arm was bleeding and my leg and I just gave up for quite a while.” 

It wasn’t the first time she escaped death – as a younger woman she fell off a train on the Cronulla line, as a girl she fell out of a moving car, and another time she narrowly missed being run over by a truck. 


But this time she thought that was it:  “When I say I thought I was going to die, I really did.  I remember one time I just got off my side and lay back and I thought this is it, nobody’s going to find me,” Ms Ross said. “I was just lying there hopelessly frightened, in pain.” 

When the phone rang, she knew it was the Red Cross ringing to see if she was OK.  

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s Red Cross’. By this time I was really crying and praying and the phone rang the third time and I knew it was Red Cross and it was the best sound I’d ever heard in my life.”  A Red Cross volunteer then called her neighbour who came over to check on her. 

As temperatures plummet, the Red Cross is launching its annual Doing it Tough appeal on June 1. Its new data shows thousands of lonely Australians like Ms Ross are at risk of serious illness or injury and need help this winter.

“At a time when it is dark, it is cold, it is harder to get out, and for those who are already lonely, winter makes it even tougher,” said Judy Slatyer, the new CEO of the Australian Red Cross.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that around one in three Australians are lonely.  In 2015 the Red Cross helped more than 20,000 Australians who were living alone. Its volunteers made routine visits and phone calls.  

“In this lucky country, where there are more phones than people and most adults use the internet daily, no one should feel lonely or isolated this winter,” said Ms Slatyer.

“It’s not only isolated people who are doing it tough as the cold months set in. People of all ages and all walks of life experience loneliness but it’s the poorest who suffer most, including young homeless people and families who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Research shows being lonely is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being obese.

“Loneliness and isolation have a big impact on overall health and wellbeing,” Ms Slatyer said, adding that it increases the risk of heart attack, cancer and depression.

As a mother of two, Ms Ross never imagined she would suffer from loneliness and isolation. But her son has multiple sclerosis, and her daughter died from cancer recently at 39.

Ms Slatyer said anyone could help: “We encourage anyone to reach out to someone they know, family and friends and neighbours.”

Go to the Red Cross website to make a donation. 


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