Feeling lonely? You're not alone
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;
Story

Feeling lonely? You're not alone

Stories/477 , Issues/Mental Health , Issues/Healthcare
Sydney NSW, Australia
25th Dec 2018
Feeling lonely? You're not alone
Coalition to End Loneliness is out to raise the profile of loneliness and its prevalence.

With the advance of social media and digital technology we are more connected than ever before, yet many of us still struggle with loneliness and social isolation.

In 2018 a report by Relationships Australia identified one in 6 people experience loneliness and one in 10 lack social support. The report points out that marital status, age, single parenthood and employment can all play a causative role.

The increasing need to address the issue of loneliness in Australia has prompted a variety of organisations to form a Coalition to End Loneliness. Irene Gallagher, CEO of Being, states that the Coalition has come together to raise the profile of loneliness and its prevalence.

"For each individual it [loneliness] happens differently and for different reasons... but what we do recognise is that loneliness is becoming a significant issue in our society."

Being, a mental health and wellbeing advocacy group, is one of the organisations forming part of the Coalition. They lobby government, run training and hold events around mental health and loneliness.

One of their recent initiatives was a program called "Talkin together". It was a program funded around the NDIS to empower consumers with lived experiences of mental health issues. What Being found was that those involved in the program reported a decrease in their levels of loneliness due to experiencing a shared community-based connection.

A lack of community connection is often the reason why many people experience loneliness and social isolation. People don't feel like they are a part of something, they don't feel like they are involved in a community.

According to Ms Gallagher loneliness does not just affect people with mental health issues.

"Loneliness affects everyone at some point in their lives. People do talk about being lonely...what that actually feels like. They can be amongst other people and [yet] still feel lonely.

"So many people come to us and say 'I have family, I have friends, I have people that I can connect with but I am still lonely. I feel an internal emptiness.'"

The report by Relationships Australia, which drew on information from the Hilda Survey, points out that women generally report feeling more emotionally lonely than men, whilst men feel more socially isolated. Feeling emotionally lonely is associated with a subjective feeling such as "an internal emptiness" whereas social isolation is an objective measure of your "external" social interactions.

When it comes to relationship breakdowns, whilst both separated men and women experience loneliness, separated men are four times more likely to feel lonely. Younger male and female single parents reported the highest level of social isolation.

The report also found that younger males on income support show the highest rate of loneliness. The finding supports the contention that employment can have positive outcomes on, and be a means to tackle, loneliness and social isolation.

"We know for a lot of people their identity is wrapped up in their jobs, [those] who are in the latter part of their lives who potentially lose their jobs or who are being retrenched are at a higher risk of experiencing loneliness and social isolation", says Ms Gallagher.

In relation to those in older age brackets it was found that after the age of 64, while social support rates decreased, emotional loneliness levels increased with the highest numbers of loneliness reported for those over the age of 75.

Although mental health issues are not identified as the sole cause of loneliness and social isolation, there is much interest in how the two are interrelated. The aetiology of loneliness and social isolation and their connection to mental health however is as Ms Gallagher puts it a question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg.

"Are people who experience loneliness developing mental health issues or is it that the biomedical model starts and then people begin to isolate themselves and become lonely?

"What we do know is that a lot of people with mental health issues become isolated and don't connect with society because of the discrimination and stigma they face."

Other causes of loneliness and social isolation include family unit breakdowns, the dismantling of community and the loss of loved ones.

"Once upon a time, families all stayed in the one place, now you got much more mobility and many are looking at starting new lives in new places and [as a consequence] loved ones are left behind."

So what can we do to snuff out loneliness and social isolation?

There are a number of "buffers" that the report identifies through the work of Michael Flood. These include things like social engagement in paid work, caring for others and being active in social or sports clubs. Volunteering at a community organisation you are passionate about or taking up a short course can also counter loneliness and social isolation.

During the Christmas and New Year holidays, many people may experience loneliness and social isolation more intensely. Reachout Australia has a number of online resources and chat forums that can help people cope with loneliness. Lifeline also offers telephone crises support on 13 11 14.

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