Norwich, UK

© 2016 by Samantha England.

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Our worldwide epidemic of loneliness and social isolation

May 19, 2018



Loneliness is a major health risk, recent research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (1) Deep down we all know this and don't need a researcher to tell us that loneliness contributes to a whole range of negative physical and psychological conditions.


The effects of loneliness can feel devastating. 

Our whole purpose of life is to connect interact with one and other, we are made to be socially interactive in a deep, intimate, and caring way, any steps away from this natural way of being causes us and others much harm.

In more recent years we have seen self–sufficiency, self- preservation and protection taken too far often to ones detriment. 

Worldwide there are now more single person households then ever before.


In the UK currently, more than half of people over the age of 75 live on their own, and some 500,000 older people in the UK go up to a week without seeing or speaking to anyone. (2)


In the western world it is a now common perception that as a person gets older they will inevitable feel lonely.


We need to be prepared so post-retirement we maintain our social connections - keeping up links with friends and family. 


We may plan for retirement, plan our finances and even our own funeral before we plan on making new friends, getting out, learning new things and work on developing and deepening relationships. 


Loneliness feeds stagnation and stagnation feeds loneliness.


If the word loneliness congers up images of elderly people sitting looking lost in their arm chair – think again - loneliness is affecting many younger people as well.

  • Nearly 70% of university students battle loneliness during school year. (3)

A National survey in Canada found students felt ‘very lonely’ and ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function.


The Lonely Society, a 2010 report commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, revealed that 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 spoke of often feeling lonely. And In 2010 the Mental Health Foundation found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people than the elderly. The 18 to 34-year-olds who were surveyed were morelikely to feel lonely often, and feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55s.



Social health needs to be a public health priority. 
Connection with another is so very important; if we don't have connection we all suffer. 

Is loneliness affecting the workplace? More and more people are reporting dissatisfaction with work, is lack of true connection one reason why? When we have joyful fulfilling relationships in the workplace our days become lighter there is an certain magic to the day- take away those valued connections and we feel dull and unsatisfied. 

With the advancement of technology one would think we may have advanced in the way in which we relate to one and other and that loneliness could be a thing of the past, unfortunately this could not be further from the truth. 

We may have more advanced technology then ever before and have ‘better’ forms of entertainment yet to what expense, Loneliness in has never been more rife.

We have isolated ourselves from others and community life has suffered as a consequence.


A snap shot of loneliness inthe United Kingdom


  • Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)

  • 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report, feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)

  • 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)

A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often  (Beaumont, 2013)


It makes sense that loneliness and lack of true connection with another can of course directly impact our health,

Loneliness is a public health issue; if people are lonely they are more likely to: 

  • visit their GP, have higher use of medication, higher incidence of falls and increased risk factors for long term care (Cohen, 2006) 

  • undergo early entry into residential or nursing care (Russell et al, 1997) 

  • use accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness. (Geller, Janson, McGovern and Valdini, 1999). 

  • Key risk factors for loneliness include being in later old age (over 80 years), on a low income, in poor physical or mental health, and living alone or in isolated rural areas or deprived urban communities.

Real purpose in our lives can be felt though relationships with others.


In summary it is never to late to prioritise those meaningful relationships that we already have. Real purpose in our lives can be felt though relationships with others.


How to deal with Loneliness. 

Volunteer.Volunteering can give you an opportunity to meet new people, make rewarding friendships and work alongside like-minded people. Making a difference and having a purpose can really help.


Tend existing relationships.make plans to spend time with people you already know and care about, be the one to send out invitations for a weekend walk, dinner or some kind of shared activity


Make socializing a priority, look around the community there is usually loads of things to get involved in, make new connections and learn new skills, there is literally thousands of things we could be interested in.


Try something new go to different places, join a class or a club, or connect with others, don't be afraid to be you. You are worth getting to know.



Samaritans Number: 116 123 (UK)


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