There are many emerging public health issues that governments and society are seeking to address, with the issue of loneliness attracting increasing attention. Loneliness occurs when our relationships are felt to be inadequate. It is the difference between how someone sees the quality and quantity of their existing relationships, compared to what they want them to be. As a result, people can feel lonely whether they are surrounded by others or are socially isolated. Everyone experiences loneliness at points in life. It is a prompt to seek out a way to meet our needs which, in this case, is social connection. For many people, the experience is temporary, but for others it becomes entrenched and damaging.
Loneliness causes physical health problems, with consequences as dire as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It also contributes to, and exacerbates, mental health problems. People experiencing loneliness have been shown to have less optimism about social situations. They are also more likely to behave in ways that distance them further from others. These behaviours can develop into a persistent spiral of feeling increasingly lonely.
However, the research evidence is clear; loneliness can be addressed. Interventions that focus on changing negative thinking are important for breaking patterns. Improving the quality of our relationships and building intimacy with those around us can also reduce the feeling of being lonely.
The work of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness
Dr Michelle Lim, from the Social Health and Wellbeing Laboratory at Swinburne University, and Lesley Brooks, from the Friendship Initiative, a social initiative, set up the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness in 2016. It is a collaboration of organisations and community groups working together to build an evidence-based approach to ending loneliness in Australia. The Coalition’s work is inspired by the United Kingdom’s Campaign to End Loneliness and other, similar international initiatives.
In Australia, the campaign focusses on addressing loneliness across the lifespan. In contrast, other UK counterparts focus on connections in old age. However, as we know, loneliness can affect people from childhood to old age. The Coalition aims to build the evidence base around loneliness as a social and health issue and raise awareness. Reducing loneliness has the potential to alleviate both physical and mental health issues, promoting individual and community wellbeing.
The Australian Coalition to End Loneliness is considering what its structure will look like beyond the next 12 months, consulting with member organisations and focussing on priorities. WayAhead is auspicing and providing secretariat support. If you would like to be considered for membership of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness or would like more information, please get in touch with our CEO, Elizabeth Priestley. At this stage, only organisational memberships are being accepted. We are pleased to be part of such a worthwhile community initiative.