Why do we need to talk about loneliness?
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Loneliness Awareness Week 2022
Dr Michelle H Lim
Mr Eddie Garcia
Co-Directors – Global Initiative in Loneliness and Connection
Do you remember the last time you felt like you didn’t belong or that you had nobody who truly understood how you were feeling or what you were going through? Perhaps you felt like you could not talk to anyone? Or that it was not something worth talk about at all.
We think it is worth talking about, and here’s why.
Loneliness is an issue that affects people in every country globally ¹and has been identified as an emerging public health priority before the Covid-19 pandemic.²The onset of current pandemic highlighted this issue - almost all of us across the globe, it changed our social routines and lives to keep us safe from the outbreak.³ We know that physical distancing hinders our ability to develop new relationships and nurture existing ties we have with family, friends, colleagues, and our community; and therefore the prevalence of loneliness increased (albeit small) after the public health crisis⁴, with younger people, people who are socially disadvantaged⁵, those living alone and carers particularly affected.⁶
We can no longer afford to ignore the robust scientific evidence on the devastating impact of loneliness on our health and wellbeing,⁷⁸ and the associated economic costs ⁹that cuts across international borders. This is why the Global Initiative in Loneliness and Connection was formed. Our 11-member country collective is focused on sharing knowledge, resources to combat loneliness and social isolation.¹⁰The UK and Japan are two countries that have appointed Minister to address the issue and made steps to address it within systematic frameworks. And there are encouraging signs from the USA, Australia, and Denmark, with increasing government acknowledgement and support.
The Loneliness Awareness Week created and hosted by our friends at the Marmalade Trust, is an annual campaign that aims to raise awareness of loneliness. A fundamental principle that underpins this campaign is that loneliness is a natural human emotion – that people are innately built to connect. Loneliness is our signal to reach out and connect in a way that can satisfy our social needs. This is critical because this message reduces the stigma of being lonely.¹¹ Loneliness is only problematic when we neglect it, push it away, or do not address it in ways that can satisfy our social needs. For many, loneliness is a reality they face daily – there are people who are further burdened by a lack of social support, reduced financial or environmental resources, or poor health - many factors that are out of their control. For these vulnerable communities, it is easy to see how they feel lonely over very long periods of time.
We know that loneliness is an antecedent to poor health outcomes and wellbeing and associated with greater mortality risk. But more persistent form, or chronic loneliness has a greater mortality risk than situational (or more episodic) forms of loneliness. Addressing loneliness early and thereby preventing the onset of chronic loneliness should be a priority. And prevention comes in different ways - community awareness building, education, and early intervention, to name a few.
Joining our friends from the Marmalade Trust is this year’s Loneliness Awareness Week is just one small step that we will take towards addressing this public health emergency.
Let’s talk about loneliness and make it part of our lingo – loneliness is a word that does not signal a personal deficit but rather a human emotion we all have to respond to at every stage of our lives. It is worth a reminder that we are not alone in our loneliness – it it’s worth talking about.
1. Surkalim, D. L. et al. The prevalence of loneliness across 113 countries: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ376, e067068, doi:10.1136/bmj-2021- 067068 (2022).
2 Holt-Lunstad, J., Robles, T. F. & Sbarra, D. A. Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. The American psychologist72, 517- 530, doi:10.1037/amp0000103 (2017).
3 Smith, B. & Lim, M. H. How the COVID-19 pandemic is focusing attention on loneliness and social isolation. Public Health Research & Practice 30, e3022008 (2020).
4 Ernst, M. et al. Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review with meta-analysis. The American psychologist, doi:10.1037/amp0001005 (2022).
5 Lim, M. H. et al. A global longitudinal study examining social restrictions severity on loneliness, social Anxiety, and depression.
Frontiers in Psychiatry 13, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2022.818030 (2022).
6 O'Sullivan, R. et al. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Loneliness and Social Isolation: A Multi-Country Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health 18, doi:10.3390/ijerph18199982 (2021).
7 Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T. & Stephenson, D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science 10, 227-237 (2015).
8 Lim, M. H., Eres, R. & Vasan, S. Understanding loneliness in the twenty-first century: an update on correlates, risk factors, and potential solutions. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, doi:10.1007/s00127-020-01889-7 (2020).
9 Abdallah, S., Jeffrey, K. & Michaelson, J. The cost of loneliness to UK employers.,(2017).
10 Badcock, J. C., Holt-Lunstad, J., Garcia, E., Bombaci, P. & Lim, M. H. Position statement: Addressing social isolation and loneliness and the power of human connection. Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection (GILC) (2022). https://www.gilc.global/general-6
11 Barreto, M. et al. Exploring the nature and variation of the stigma associated with loneliness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, doi:10.1177/02654075221087190 (2022).
12 Shiovitz-Ezra, S. & Ayalon, L. Situational versus chronic loneliness as risk factors for all-cause mortality. International Psychogeriatrics 22, 455-462 (2010).