Loneliness is an ‘urgent crisis’ and the UK should have a national strategy and ‘minister for loneliness’, according to a commission established by MP Jo Cox before she was murdered.
The final report of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission was recently published and made these recommendations, and more, to help tackle the crisis.
Loneliness is a serious and large-scale problem. In the UK, over 9 million adults are often or always lonely. The issue has far-reaching consequences. Apart from the distress loneliness causes, it has serious consequences for health: doing as much damage to health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. There are also economic consequences and it is estimated to cost employers £2.5billion a year.
Fortunately we have a growing body of scientific research on loneliness, well summarised recently, along with three moves to help you stop feeling lonely in Psychology Today.
One encouraging fact is that talking to people makes you feel better. We tend to under-estimate this and imagine that if we chat to strangers it will be a bad experience. But try it. Most people find they enjoy it much more than they expected.
It is also important not to fall for the idea that online relationships are an adequate substitute for face-to-face contact. The fact is that they just don’t do what face-to-face interactions can do. This is partly biological. Face-to-face interaction triggers much better endorphin release than going online.
Another striking fact is that most of us largely ignore our neighbours. Neighbours may not be close friends, but different kinds of contact can play different roles, and neighbours are an easy kind of social interaction, and a useful ingredient in our social mix.
There is also an element of altruism as well as self-interest in making better social contact with those around us. Most people want to be altruistic and believe they are. Simply talking to people does more good than we might have imagined, and makes us feel better too.
The Jo Cox commission calls for three elements in the battle against loneliness:
National leadership and strategy including a loneliness minister
Metrics that will enable us to measure progress in overcoming loneliness