Epidemic levels of loneliness are now being felt across the country, a study has warned, with one in five people admitting they are affected by social isolation.
The harrowing research, from the Co-op and the British Red Cross, reveals that nine million people in the UK - more than the population of London - say they are always or often lonely.
And, the report has found, it isn’t just the elderly who are affected as it identifies key situations which can spark isolation.
“This is a crisis we cannot ignore, but if we come together it’s also a problem we can solve,” said Mike Adamson, chief executive of British Red Cross UK. “Our research shows that life transitions are key triggers for loneliness. We need to focus on these moments and work together to prevent loneliness from taking hold in the first place, by responding quickly and helping people to recover once they’ve hit crisis point.”
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning since 2014 to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, as studies show it can be as damaging to health as smoking and obesity. Some research has shown loneliness can as impactful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, while other studies have warned it could cost up to £12,000 per person over the next 15 years in increased use of public services.
Now a new report has revealed key triggers for a growing “loneliness epidemic”, debunking the widely-held view that it is primary an issue affecting older people.
Entitled ‘Trapped in a Bubble’, it provides a striking snapshot into modern-day loneliness and how it affects people at different stages in their lives. And, it warns, without support it can transition from a temporary situation to a chronic issue.
“Loneliness is not only hurting individuals by making them feel disconnected from themselves and their communities - it’s hurting our public services too,” said Mr Adamson. “When left ignored loneliness can contribute to poor health, ultimately leading to an unnecessary loss in independence and the need for more formal support.”
The research found that nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of people who said they are always or often lonely had experienced one of several key triggers. These included family breakdowns such as separation or divorce, bereavement, health or mobility issues, becoming a new mum at a young age, or facing empty nest syndrome or retirement.
Worryingly, three quarters said do not know where to turn for support, the report found, with many feeling there is still a stigma attached to the issue.
Now, to combat the issue, the Co-op and the British Red Cross has set up a network of ‘community connectors’ to help 12,500 people. Funded by £3.5m raised by the Co-op and to be run by the British Red Cross, dedicated teams, funded for two years and backed by volunteers, will offer 12 weeks of care centering around individual’s interests and local services to help people gain confidence.
“We already know that ageing can be a risk factor for loneliness but this report clearly identifies how ordinary events in life have the potential to disrupt our social connections and can lead to individuals becoming lonely,” said Richard Pennycook, chief executive of the Co-op. “It is clear that a lack of support for community groups can leave those experiencing loneliness with limited options to re-establish social connections.”