Are we getting lonelier?
Is there a ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness today? Britain is described by researchers as the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’. The Commission on Loneliness, initially set up by the murdered MP Jo Cox, was launched in January. Charities have been working with isolated and lonely older people, and running befriending schemes, for some time. No longer is loneliness thought to affect a million or more older people; today it is claimed that it affects at least one in five of us. Not only that – we are told that it impacts on national productivity, puts pressure on the already struggling services that the lonely rely on and is a public health problem that can lead to depression, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and the onset of dementia.
Is the new high profile for the problem of loneliness something we should welcome as an opportunity to turn a spotlight on the psychological impact of the social fragmentation and breakdown of community that is such a feature of modern life? Or is there a danger that those most affected by loneliness will continue to be ignored? Is there also a danger that we overlook the positive side to being alone and enjoying one’s own company, a consequence of people living longer, more affluent and mobile lives?
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volunteer at The Samaritans