Back to news

‚ÄčLack of social connections and loneliness is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

Make new friends for International day of persons with disabilities

NHS Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group is celebrating international day of persons with disabilities (December 3) by encouraging local residents to say hello, offer a friendly cup of tea or lend a hand to a neighbour with a disability.

People with disabilities can experience considerable difficulties in making and maintaining friendships, this can really impact on their lives. Friendships can help people with emotional support in times of crisis, boost happiness, reduce stress, improve self-confidence and is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

According to Sense, a national charity that supports people who are deaf, blind, have sensory impairments or complex needs,[i] more than half (53 per cent) of disabled people say they feel lonely, rising to 77 per cent for young people. Nearly one in three respondents reported seeing friends once a month or less. Six per cent of disabled people have no friends at all.

International day of persons with disabilities, which is organised by the United Nations, is a chance for people with and without disabilities around the world to come together in the name of friendship.

In the UK there are 11.65 million disabled people. There is no one official statistic for disability in Lewisham. However, in Lewisham Council's 2007 Residents Survey, of the 1,042 people surveyed, 14% of respondents described themselves as disabled.[ii]  People who are deafblind and sensory-impaired say barriers to friendship include a lack of understanding from others in how to communicate with them. To get the conversation started, why not try these tips for communicating well with a disabled person?

  • use a normal tone of voice, do not patronise or talk down to the person
  • refer to the person as having [x] disability, not as 'a victim of [x]' or 'suffers from [x]'
  • be confident in using everyday language, for example, 'see you later', 'another pair of hands'
  • address disabled people in the same way as you talk to everyone else
  • communicate directly to a disabled person, even if accompanied by an interpreter or companion.  
  • If they are in a wheelchair or bed,talk at their level if you can, Get a chair or bend down.

A good way for people to beat loneliness is to get involved with the voluntary sector. Volunteers get great satisfaction, acquire new skills and make life-long friends. Helping each other improves the lives of local people and makes our neighbourhoods stronger and better places to live

Dr Marc Rowland, Local GP and Chair of NHS Lewisham CCG said: "Research tells us how important mental health is to physical health, and I would encourage all local people to use the international day of persons with disabilities to think about how they might help a neighbour with a disability to enjoy a more fulfilling social life."

To find out about local volunteering opportunities visit  the links below:

Voluntary Action Lewisham at:

Voluntary services Lewisham

Lewisham Disability Coalition

Volunteering matters

Since 1992, the United Nations' international day of persons with disabilities (IDPD) has been annually observed on 3 December around the world. The theme for this year's IDPD is "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all" and this encourages people with and without disabilities to work together for mutual benefit. 

For more information on the international day of persons with disabilities (IDPD) visit:

[i] Sense Friendship survey, 1004 people with disabilities, Sense/Opinium, Jan 2015

[ii] Lewisham's Joint Strategic Needs Assessment