Red Cross tackles the Easter blues

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Norway’s long, five-day Easter holiday isn’t only a spring fling full of fun. For many Norwegians, it can be a period of loneliness and depression, so the Red Cross was standing by with more than rescue squads for wayward skiers in the mountains.

Not everyone is off skiing in the mountains over Easter in Norway, like here at Hafjell Toppen last weekend. Loneliness can be a problem during the long holiday period. PHOTO: Views and News

“There are very many who don’t head for the mountains during Easter, and therefore it’s important that we also have good services for them, too,” Åsne Havnelid, new secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

Among them is the so-called Kors på halsen (similar to “Cross my heart”) program, that simply offers children and youth someone to chat with on the phone. Some find themselves in difficult family situations over the extended holiday period, and can use a neutral adult to listen to their concerns.

Heidi Marie Engelsåstrø and Ragnhild Omnes Amundsen are among the Red Cross volunteers who take calls and offer a sympathetic ear to those taking contact because they’re going through both small or large crises.

Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s government minister for cultural affairs from the Labour Party, called it “incredibly important” that “folks step up and help others.” The organizing work done by the Red Cross is especially important during holiday periods, Huitfeldt said.

More Norwegians spend more time alone
A recent study by state statistics bureau SSB showed that Norwegians are spending more time alone than ever before, an average of one hour and 45 minutes every day, to be precise. While it can be relaxing and positive to have some proper “down time” in a world filled with seemingly constant contact through mobile phones, e-mail and social media, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

The SSB study, called Tidsbruksundersøkelsen (a study of use of time), showed that men on average spend a half-hour more alone on a daily basis than women. Time spent alone, including time spent sleeping, increased across all age groups and over all days of the week, reported SSB.

The study also showed that Norwegians are using less time to dine and clean the house and more time on leisure activities. Time alone can help reduce stress, but there’s a difference between choosing to be alone and being lonely.

That’s where the Red Cross was stepping in, to ease loneliness especially for single persons without family during holiday periods. Easter especially “is a holiday period with many days off that’s less organized than Christmas,” Havnelid said. “That makes it even more important that we’re around, when maybe no one else is.”

Club initiative
Steinar Helleland of Stavanger, who readily admits to having been lonely himself, agreed that Easter can be a tough time, especially in the cities. Colleagues and acquaintances have gone traveling or are busy with their families, and single parents whose children are off with their former spouses can feel an emptiness as well.

Helleland got tired of feeling lonely and started a venneklubb (friends club) that now has around 400 members and has expanded to Bergen, Tromsø, Ålesund and Kristiansand.

“I just got so tired of being alone,” Helleland told Dagsavisen, after he’d moved to Stavanger from Stord without knowing anyone in his new hometown. “I had a job, but beyond that, no network. Those I worked with had families and friends, I didn’t have either. Sometimes the only person I spoke with after work was the cashier at the local market.”

Local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad wrote about Helleland’s initiative, which provided a forum for arranging activities, cultural and sporting events. “Stavanger is an active city and lots happens there, so why go to things alone?” he wondered. “It’s much more fun to do things together with others.” Now his club has its own Facebook group as well, where more friends can meet.

“I think it’s wonderful that such initiatives are put into practice,” Havnelid of the Red Cross said. “Loneliness is a problem for many and folks need to be aware of it. Call someone and say hello yourself. It can make a difference.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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