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We Need To Change How We Think About Loneliness

"I am lonely. I have been lonely for months. Or is it years? I think it could be years. Sometimes, I go weeks without speaking to anyone at all. My only contact is with the postman, or the woman who runs the shop. I am lonely. I am in pain. I am so lonely."

Those are the words of an 80 year-old woman, Mary, who I met when I first began the Campaign to End Loneliness in 2010.

How did reading Mary's words make you feel? Did it make you shudder? Squirm with discomfort? Can you imagine saying "I am lonely" out loud?

Six years on, the epidemic of loneliness in older age is showing no signs of slowing down. Loneliness is a looming social crisis - which is why, backed by the Big Lottery Fund, we're expanding our efforts.

The stigma around loneliness is huge

Last week, we released research that found that over three-quarters of older people will not admit to feeling lonely. More than half of British adults say admitting to loneliness is difficult. Clearly, the stigma around loneliness is huge. And this stigma is slowing down efforts to combat loneliness, isolating millions of older people. With our ageing population, the problem is growing fast. In fact, there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK.

Most worrying, perhaps, is the wildly popular view that loneliness in older age is more likely than ever - that loneliness is inevitable. We are here to challenge that. We need to change how we think about loneliness, and we need to do it now.

The facts about loneliness

• Loneliness is worse for you than obesity

• It is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

• Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression

The list goes on, but there is some good news. New evidence from the London School of Economics shows that it pays to end loneliness: for every £1 spent on tackling loneliness, up to £3 can be saved in health costs.

So, the economic and health benefits for tackling loneliness are clear - but we all need to take action. To help people engage with the reality of isolation and loneliness, we worked with the agency BMB to create a short film - 'The Loneliness Project'.

For Joe, the young man, the week alone with no contact was an experiment. He went home when it was over, to his friends and family. But for 84 year-old Barry, and millions of older people around the UK, this is reality. Joe later told Barry that he wanted to "walk out" of the experiment. But older people cannot walk out of their lives. They cannot simply walk away from loneliness.

At the time of writing, The Loneliness Project has had 11 million views and counting. The issue of loneliness is resonating with the public. We know there is appetite to tackle it - and there is so much to do. If you were moved by The Loneliness Project, sign up to join the Campaign. Together, we can end loneliness - and this is just the beginning.

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