British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed the country’s minister for sport and civil society Tracey Crouch to “lead on issues connected to loneliness” and “head a government-wide group with responsibility for policies connected to loneliness,” The Guardian reports.
The appointment addresses a recommendation from a report on loneliness by the Jo Cox Commission. The commission, chaired by Labour MP Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, was set up to honor Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016. May pointed to research stating that “over 9 million adults are often or always lonely” in Britain.
The Guardian reported in December that the commission’s report followed a year-long study of loneliness. “In the last few decades, loneliness has escalated from personal misfortune into a social epidemic,” Labour MP Reeves said in a speech when the commission ended. “It sometimes feels like our best friend is the smartphone.”
A pamphlet, published by Reeves and Kennedy, warned of the negative impact loneliness can have on both physical and mental health, stating that loneliness “is more harmful than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” This pamphlet also noted that “loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 billion per year.”
It’s true, loneliness is a real health risk. As Thrive Global has previously noted, “lonely people have 26 percent higher odds of premature mortality, on par with obesity” and “participants [in a study in Health Psychology] who felt lonelier were more likely to feel worse common cold symptoms.”
In addition to creating this group with Crouch at the helm, the British government plans to “develop a wider strategy on the issue, gather more evidence and statistics, and provide funding for community groups to start activities which connect people.”
The Guardian reports that Reeves and Kennedy said they “welcomed the government response, and would work with Crouch and various groups to tackle the issue.” They quoted Jo Cox in their joint response, who once said, “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.”
Loneliness is not a uniquely British problem, either. A wide range of research shows that the loneliness epidemic may soon become a global crisis.
Some research into the subject is hopeful. For example, after a 10-year study, two psychologists at the University of Chicago suggested that changing what people pay attention to (helping them focus less on themselves,) could help people feel less lonely.
Read more from The Guardian here.