Loneliness is generally described as a feeling of lack of connection or communication with others. According to the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, in recent times loneliness has become a social epidemic. Findings from our recent publication ‘Relationships Matter’ suggest that loneliness can now lead to chronic health problems. Irish charity Alone have found that loneliness can be as bad for your health as obesity, physical inactivity and smoking up to 15 cigarettes.
In Ireland it is estimated that 400,000 people suffer from loneliness and reports suggest it increases with age. The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA) has found that more than 37% of people over the age of 50 reported feeling lonely often or some of the time. For those aged 75 or over the figure rose to 45%.
Despite these figures, loneliness does not discriminate based on age. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness found that in the UK 43% of those aged 17-25 had experienced feeling lonely or isolated. It is also suggested that during a person’s lifespan, loneliness can peak at the age of 30, when people can be very busy with life, and again at 60, when someone may retire.
Sometimes people only associate loneliness with being isolated or alone, but it can be so much more than that. Loneliness can come from feeling irrelevant or feeling like people don’t relate to you. People in relationships can also feel lonely due to lack of communication and understanding, silence or criticism. A desire to connect is in our DNA and that is why a strong attachment with a primary care giver is vital for personal development from birth. The quality of our relationships play a vital role in combating loneliness.
In January 2018, Therese May appointed a Minister for Loneliness to tackle the epidemic. GP and author, Harry Barry, thinks a Minister for Loneliness in Ireland is a ‘nice idea’ but not realistic. The Irish Examiner delve into this topic more in their recent article around the loneliness epidemic in Ireland. Read more here.