MS-UK’s Head of Services, Diana Crowe reflects upon its latest report which gives valuable insight into the loneliness and isolation people living with multiple sclerosis can experience
Much of my time last year was spent exploring how people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) experience loneliness and isolation and my findings are shared in our report that we have published this week. I don’t wish to repeat in this blog what is said in the report but rather reflect on my experiences whilst working on this project.
When I first started to scope out the work I realised that I needed to squirrel myself away at home one day a week to give me the time and space to research and read all of the amazing reports that had already been published and understand the landscape. This was a luxury to have this time (before we were all forced to work at home – thank you COVID-19!) but I soon discovered the irony of working on a project that was making me feel a little lonely and isolated from my colleagues.
As a community-led organisation, the next step was to reach out to the MS community to hear about their lived experiences. I always love this part of my job because it keeps me grounded and drives the passion that I have to really make a difference. We started by conducting an online survey which gave us a really good starting point and enabled us to drill down further into the challenges and barriers that the MS community were facing.
In the late summer, my colleague and I travelled the country on one plane, many trains and automobiles! We were so grateful to the MS Therapy Centres across the UK that opened their doors to us and enabled us to facilitate focus groups. The dynamics were different in each group – one was very emotional as people shared their experiences and tissues were needed and in others, we heard how some people used humour to deal with the challenges they faced. For example, someone pulled up their trouser leg to reveal a catheter bag and exclaimed ‘this is not a fashion accessory you know!’ We conducted telephone interviews with those we could not meet face to face and it was such a privilege to take this time and listen. Many cups of tea and cakes later we had a rich insight that has shaped the next steps you see in this report.
It has been a long time in the making and we had every intention of launching this report back in March but then we were all forced into isolation (thanks again COVID-19!) and we have all faced so many challenges both personally and professionally and it certainly did not seem appropriate at that moment.
However, this week is Loneliness Awareness Week and we felt this was the right time to share our work. This report and the recommendations within, build upon the work we are already doing and gives us a platform to develop new initiatives. This is just the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation and I encourage organisations to get in touch to talk about how we can build partnerships, learn from each other and keep this conversation alive. Only by working together can we tackle loneliness and isolation in the MS community.
Click here to download our Loneliness and isolation report