Well-Being//

The U.K. Takes the Loneliness Crisis Very Seriously. So Should We.

An expert explains why America should follow the U.K. in taking an aggressive approach to solving the loneliness crisis.

Photo credit: Asia Marosa / EyeEm / Getty Images
Photo credit: Asia Marosa / EyeEm / Getty Images

The loneliness epidemic in the United States continues to generate troubling headlines: The New York Times declared that “Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart.” The Hill wrote that we should “Blame a ‘loneliness epidemic’ for risks to nation’s well-being.” And NPR covered how “Americans Are A Lonely Lot, And Young People Bear The Heaviest Burden.”  

While a 2018 Cigna study of 20,000 Americans from across the United States revealed that Generation Z is the loneliest among us and nearly half of all participants reported sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent), we’ve still not seen an urgent and systemic governmental response to combat the crisis in the United States, Kory Floyd, Ph.D., a professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Arizona and author of The Loneliness Cure, tells Thrive Global.

And yet, studies repeatedly demonstrate that loneliness is a risk factor for all sorts of mental and physical health issues, including heart disease and stroke, depression, even increased mortality.

Floyd points to the U.K., where more than 9 million are said to often or always feel lonely, as an exemplary example of a robust, multi-pronged response to the problem.

In memory of Jo Cox, a member of Parliament (MP) murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016, who advocated on behalf of lonely citizens, the government set up the cross-party Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, spearheaded by Parliament member Seema Kennedy, to work with “charities, businesses and the Government to turbo-charge the public understanding and policy response to the loneliness crisis.” Heeding the commission’s recommendations, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister for loneliness in January of last year, saying in a statement at the time: “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

Most recently, the country unveiled a cross-government strategy to grapple with what May appropriately calls “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.” (A survey of general practitioners revealed that around 200,000 older people in Britain have not had a conversation with a friend or family members in more than a month.) The plan encourages doctors to prescribe social activities, such as cooking courses, walking groups and art clubs to patients, and asks businesses to make “Employer Pledges” to grapple with loneliness in the workforce. U.K citizens can also access the following free resources:

Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393

The Mix Helpline: 0808 808 4994 (Online chat and messenger service also available)

Age UK Helpline: 0800 169 6565

The Samaritans Helpline: 116 123

Unfortunately, America’s response to our own loneliness crisis seems to have lagged behind. “The U.S. has nothing analogous,” loneliness expert Floyd says, “but I absolutely believe we should. Loneliness is strongly linked to so many health problems, up to and including suicide, that it should be managed as the public health crisis that it is.” As we head into 2019, Floyd encourages all of us to lobby our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels of government to make loneliness a priority.

Americans struggling with loneliness, depression or suicidal thinking can find support here:

The Aging Institute Helpline: 415-750-4111

The Samaritans Helpline: 212-673-3000

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Additional resources include MeetUp.com, which offers easy access to face-to-face connections, and The Lonely Hour, a podcast that allows listeners to hear and share experiences with loneliness.

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