Loneliness: An Epidemic Of Our Time

11/08/2017 14:34 BST | Updated 11/08/2017 14:35 BST

In this time of incredible innovation, we have never been more connected. Major advancements in technology mean that with one swipe of a smartphone, we can instantly cross oceans and time zones to communicate with someone on the other side of the world. The sad irony however, is that as communication becomes increasingly effortless, people are actually getting lonelier.

In the last few decades alone, life has progressed more than it ever has, and the internet is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of our time. But, as the world moves online, other factors, such as the growing accessibility of travel and a larger proportion of young people moving away from their hometown, mean that more and more people are becoming physically separated from their support networks. The simple fact is that humans, by nature, are not supposed to be alone; we have an innate need for meaningful connection that isn't being satisfied.

Loneliness is a growing epidemic, and not something we can keep brushing under the carpet. Not only has it has been linked to numerous mental health conditions, such as stress, depression, and even suicidal thoughts, loneliness is more lethal than obesity, and just as damaging as smoking or alcohol abuse.

In the UK alone, the oldest, the youngest, and the most vulnerable members of society are suffering every single day. Recently, Age UK revealed that half a million adults over 60 usually spend entire days completely on their own, often for five or six days at a time. That is not a small number, or a small amount of time. When we look at younger age groups, the figures are just as startling. In the past year, Childline revealed that there were 4,063 counselling sessions as a direct result of loneliness - that's an average of 11 calls each day. It's only recently that we are beginning to realise the breadth of this problem, and the real concern is that it's getting worse.

Children who, for various reasons, are unable to participate in their usual day-to-day activities, be it school or otherwise, suffer greatly as a result of their removal from society - loneliness is significantly affecting their future health and wellbeing. In fact, in children specifically, mental health and development are severely affected by social isolation.

For me personally, the most shocking statistics come from a recent study carried out by national disability charity Sense UK, which looked into social isolation among the disabled. It revealed that 25% of Brits have actively avoided conversations with disabled people. This statistic is even more upsetting when you realise that often, these are the people who are most in need of our support.

At No Isolation, we're taking steps every day to solve this problem. Heartbreakingly, people are often embarrassed to admit that they're lonely and so will continue to suffer in silence. Tackling loneliness begins by simply opening up this important conversation; making sure that society is aware of this on-going and critical issue, and encouraging those who are struggling in solitude to seek help.

Now that we are beginning to understand the effects of loneliness, it's imperative that we start taking active measures to solve it. There's a long road ahead without a simple one-size-fits-all solution, but now that we have started, we must carry on. As the Dalai Lama said: "Our prime purpose in this life is to help others."