Let’s talk Loneliness

It’s a month ago that the ‘Let’s talk Loneliness’ campaign was launched as part of Loneliness Awareness Week. Perhaps a good time to reflect on what the campaign is about and why it’s so important.

So, what is it all about? The campaign is a high profile bid to tackle the stigma of loneliness and encourage people to speak out. Its a government initiative (part of the governments Loneliness Strategy, headed by Loneliness Minister, Mimns Davies. It brings together organisations and charities including the Marmalade Trust, the Co-Op Foundation, Mind, the Red Cross, Jo Cox Foundation, Public Health England and the Campaign to End Loneliness. It’s aims are to encourage everyone to engage, spot the signs of loneliness and help build more meaningful connections with others.

Clearly it’s a major initiative, backed by significant government money and reflects the major impact loneliness can have on our physical and mental health. As Mimns Davies said, “Loneliness is one of the biggest Health challenges our country faces. It can affect anyone at any time and its impact is in line with smoking or a obesity. But we can only begin to help one another if we feel able to understand, recognise and talk about it.”

So how widespread is loneliness? Here are some facts and figures which illustrate what a big issue it is:

– 25% of adults have reported feeling lonely on weekends. (You Gov)
– Over half of people over 75 live alone (ONS)
– Over half a million older people go for 5-6 days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone (Age UK)
– 43% of 17-25 year olds who used Action for Children’s services had experienced problems with loneliness. (Action for Children)
– 9 million British adults are either always or often lonely (British Red Cross)

There has clearly been an increase in levels of loneliness in recent years. Perhaps we have less opportunities to interact with each other than in the past, technology and the more geographically mobile lifestyles we enjoy mean we often don’t feel part of a close, settled community or family. Loneliness is a particular issue for certain groups. For example, people who live in cities report a higher incidence of feeling lonely than those who live elsewhere. The elderly are also more likely to be affected and less likely to reach out, as are those with limited mobility or disability. People rarely discuss loneliness even though it is a very common feeling. When they do, it is often in negative ways, something that is ‘suffered from’ for example. The campaign wishes to bring awareness and positive support to this, so that loneliness is seen as an uncomfortable, temporary feeling, which provides an opportunity for individuals to fill their lives with new experiences and new friends. It also includes initiatives to promote interaction and reconnect within communities, using technology and traditional approaches to overcome isolation and loneliness.

Net time, we’ll look at ways loneliness can affect our mental health, why it can be such an important factor in mental health issues such as Depression and Anxiety, and what can be done about this.