Charity aims to end problem of loneliness

5.3 million people in France feel isolated and believe they have no one to turn to

25 December 2019
By Jane Hanks

One-twelfth of the French population – 5.3 million people – feel very alone with no one to turn to.

January 23 is Journée des Solitudes, which aims to highlight the problem.

The message is that no one should be ashamed of feeling lonely but everyone should be ashamed that so many people do feel so alone.

The national day is organised by the Astrée charity (www.astree.asso.fr), which was created in 1987 and has 17 branches, mostly in cities, throughout France.

Spokeswoman Corentin Blanchetière said: “Loneliness can touch anyone, from any social background, at any age, at any moment of their life.

“It can come suddenly and unexpectedly, through, for example, a job loss, the death of someone close, or the breakdown of a relationship.”

Astrée helps by training volunteers to meet a person in need for 90 minutes once a week, usually in the offices of the charity.

“The volunteer sees the same client for as long as is necessary, which is a year on average,” said Ms Blanchetière.

“We are there to listen, never to judge or to give possible solutions but to let the person express themselves and feel less alone.”

Jean-Marc, who did not want to give his full name, has been a volunteer with the Paris branch for 10 years and said: “I have always seen a positive outcome for those who come for help at Astrée.

“Meeting the same person regularly gives them enormous relief. There is a huge need for this type of service.”

He works for transport services in the capital and has had to deal with suicides from people jumping in front of trains. He wanted to do something to help before people got to that stage.

“The shortest period a person has felt the need to keep up the contact has been two weeks and the longest has been four years,” he said.

Astrée is always on the look-out for helpers. English speakers are welcome if they can communicate in French.

This year’s Journée des Solitudes is focusing on young people, after a study showed that 14% of school pupils felt either often or always lonely.

The association has a programme in schools in Paris and Lyon where they train 13 and 14-year-old volunteers to look out for and support younger pupils who are alone.

“It is really super to see the positive results this brings,” said Ms Blanchetière.

“We would like to be able to set this up in other schools. The teaching staff always welcome initiatives like this.”

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