As has been covered extensively in the HuffPost, 2018 was the year that loneliness was put under the microscope. It was the year that the UK appointed its first Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch MP, who was followed in the job by Mims Davies MP, and unveiled a strategy aimed at tackling the issue. In terms of building on the tragic legacy of the murder of Jo Cox MP, who championed the issue, our proactive attitude to tackling loneliness has been a rare moment of national pride in a tumultuous year.
Most important of all is the recognition that, even in our increasingly interconnected world, loneliness is a severe issue bordering on a social pandemic. According to figures from the British Red Cross, more than half of British adults fear that no one would notice for a long time if they collapsed suddenly – a truly chilling statistic – while loneliness among children and young people has been worryingly described as an “epidemic”. Moreover, as we enter the Christmas period, Age UK has found that, across the country, over half a million older people will struggle with loneliness.
In my view, as cliché as it sounds as a policy opinion, there has been much success but much remains to be done. On a top line level, the normative work has been a roaring success. Owing to the initiative set up in the name of Jo Cox plus a herculean effort by many individuals, most of whom will go unnamed and uncredited, the severity of the issue of loneliness has lodged itself in the public consciousness and, with enough consistent pressure to do so, will hopefully stay there for as long as is needed.
However, this is why the work must not only continue but is in need of an evolved strategy to ensure we eradicate this scourge forever.
What is needed now is a bottom-up approach and for that we need to all work together – much like an invisible orchestra assembling without relying on a conductor – to form a network in which we look out for one another and take personal action against loneliness in our lives, families, workplaces, and communities.
This could be as easy as taking a few moments to check-in with a friend or colleague, to call and arrange to meet-up with an older person in your life, or insist that person you haven’t seen or heard from in a while comes out for a pint, a coffee, or some dinner – lads, this means you in particular; male loneliness is an especially worrying part of the problem because, as usual, we refuse to talk about this stuff.
By committing to tackling the loneliness we find in our own lives and social circles we would take the fight to more virulent part of the problem – the stigma!
We live in world influenced by Friends, Will & Grace, and Seinfeld. Our movies, television, and the rest of our popular culture centres around people – troubled as they may be – whose lives revolve around their personal relationships.
The message is simple – if you feel like you do not have these same social connections (if you don’t see your friends for a while, for instance) then you are not doing as well as you ought to be – which is nonsense! That’s the trouble with loneliness – it’s incredibly common but we treat it like it’s a bizarre failure. A concerted bottom-up effort would go a long way in correcting this.
For my own part, in an attempt to offer to lead by example, I’m a busy, 30-year-old professional man with a well-connected social life, packed calendar, wide variety of interests, and, while I’m not strictly speaking ‘in a relationship’, I’m not short of company... and loneliness has been a feature of my life on occasion.
I don’t pretend to have had it badly but it’s definitely been there and it’s felt serious. I suspect that my experience has been far from unique and would go so far as to say that it is ordinary. If someone in my position can feel lonely on occasion – others must be struggling and therefore require the help of not only those with their hand on society’s levers but all of us.
The fight against the widespread loneliness we face as a country has gotten off to a great start and that should be celebrated. However, it’s important to realise that it is exactly that, a start, and cannot be allowed to lose momentum or focus. We’ve done incredibly well with raising the quiet epidemic of poor mental health into the public consciousness and tackling it among us on a peer-to-peer level; let’s now do the same with loneliness and get rid of it forever.