Over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are often or always lonely, but almost two thirds feel uncomfortable admitting it, say the British Red Cross and Co-Op, as of 2016.
Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
A recent report tackling loneliness in Reading urges for change within society, including neighbours, friends and families working together to look out for people at risk of isolation.
The report, Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation in Reading, England, was presented to Reading Borough Council, on the 17th October, and presents a picture of loneliness and social isolation in the area brought about in part by cuts to public sector services.
This report also suggests the impacts of mental health, addiction and homelessness and how loneliness may stem from or be magnified by such outside factors. Cllr Graeme Hoskin, Reading’s Lead Member for Health and Wellbeing, said:
“Reducing loneliness and social isolation is one of our key health priorities. We know evidence shows a significant negative impact of loneliness on physical and emotional health – now seen as on a par with smoking.”
The report also made recommendations for action including improvement of specialist support services for groups at risk of loneliness, involving personal one-to-one support, as well as group activities, with boosted opening hours, particularly at weekends.
Dr Ruth Evans, an Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Reading said:
“Service users and their supporters have told us that cuts to public services mean that specialist support and social and leisure activities that help to reduce isolation and loneliness are under threat and people may not able to access crucial help. The reality is that tackling loneliness requires everyone working together. The public sector, voluntary and community sector, communities and individuals all have a part to play in looking out and caring for everyone in our community.”
Cllr Graeme Hoskin said: “The work on this report is a good opportunity to highlight the importance of tackling social isolation. Feeling connected is good for us – for our mental and our physical wellbeing. By working together I’m sure that we can make Reading a town where people feel connected in our community.”
It was only last October when Theresa May launched the UK’s first campaign against loneliness. In 2018 May confirmed all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023.
Commercial brands have also been getting involved. Cadbury have recently run a campaign with Age UK, a charity battling loneliness and social isolation within older people. This is being promoted online by the charity via its website, that includes a two-minute film made by Cadbury. Entitled “Donate Your Words”, this film is also available via YouTube.
A Statement on the Age UK website further highlights the seriousness of these issues: “There’s a crisis in the UK. 1.4 million older people struggle with loneliness. 225,000 often go a whole week without speaking to anyone. Cadbury are donating the words from their Cadbury Dairy Milk bars to help. Never underestimate the power of a quick ‘good morning’, though.”.
If you’d like to learn more on how to get involved or find out about areas or people most affected, visit www.ageuk.org.uk.