Why are we lonely and what can we do about it?

Are we suffering from a loneliness epidemic?

A solo man looks across a body of water in a moment of loneliness.
Image by Oleksandr P

Loneliness affects us at all ages. But did you know that loneliness is associated with early death? And Good Grief! has found, as we gather information from our survey Let us know your biggest questions around dying, that many people are afraid of being alone at death – and it turns out, this is because they are alone in life.

And are you lonelier since COVID? If you answered yes, you wouldn’t be on your own.

During the pandemic our connections to each other changed. Most of our interactions with each other went online and they may not have returned as we’d hoped. Many of us have stayed in a work from home or hybrid arrangement and have less professional face to face interactions.

In fact a new report released this month, the State of the Nation Report Social Connection in Australia 2023, shows almost 1 in 3 Australians feel lonely, with 1 in 6 experiencing severe loneliness. Men and women experience loneliness to the same degree. And young people aged 18-24 years-old and middle aged people from 45-54 years-old are experiencing it the most.

The report further outlines the impacts of loneliness. It shows Australians who feel lonely are twice as likely to have chronic disease, 4.6 times more likely to have depression and 5.2 times more likely to have pooper wellbeing.

Co-author of the report, Dr Michelle Lim, Chair of End Loneliness Together, describes loneliness as a critical issue of our time.

Connected on socials but still lonely

The UK and Japan have appointed ministers for loneliness. Is it time for Australia do the same?

Loneliness is something often attributed to the elderly so it may come as a surprise to many to learn that 18-24 year-olds are among the loneliest in the country.

It’s the subject of a new podcast – We are lonely. The podcast follows four young people experiencing loneliness. It pairs them with a mentor and explores strategies for greater connection.

If you’d like to continue to watch more about the loneliness epidemic and millenials in Australia watch this short video about the challenges they face.

What can we do about the loneliness epidemic?

While the elderly don’t rank high for loneliness in the report, from my experience talking to people in the community, I know it sits front of mind for many.

Without a doubt experts like Dr Michelle Lim rate social connections as high on the list to stem loneliness. This can even be as simple as chatting with others when you walk the dog or visit the shops. Or it can be joining a new social group to learn a new skill or play a game together.

Ending Loneliness Together have compiled a list of community resources.

Friends For Good is another organisation to help people who are lonely. They also have a terrific list of resources including details for groups like Meetup– a portal to meet and connect with likeminded people in your area. Another great resource is Friendline, where a friend is only a phone call away to have a yarn or two.

You may prefer to have a formal arrangement and organise for someone to visit you by joining the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme.

So these ways to connect with others and combat loneliness can really help you. We hope you can enjoy each day every day. And if you’ve found a way to stop feeling lonely then let us know. It could help others too.

Epidemiologist and population behavioural scientist Melody Ding talks about the loneliness epidemic at Sydney Ideas.

To read more about on the findings in the State of the Nation Report check out this article from the ABC’s Nathan Morris.

Elsewhere in the world loneliness is also in the spotlight. Check out this from the US: Trends in Loneliness Among Older Adults from 2018-2023

When the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, was appointed in 2014, he thought the biggest issue he would face would be deaths from opioid abuse and obesity. Instead he found the biggest cause of death was loneliness. Read our article on this, The link between loneliness and early death.

And on this site we have almost 200 articles on connection. Here’s a feel good one on Billy Connolly’s approach to death.

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