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The loneliness epidemic: A pervasive global health crisis

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HQ Team

February 21,2024: Loneliness is a pervasive epidemic affecting the youngest to the oldest, impacting their physical and mental health alike. As the world grapples with this silent crisis, healthcare professionals, and policymakers are all coming together to find a solution to combat loneliness and foster social connections. 

Loneliness can have implications as dire as smoking. The US surgeon general has likened its effects to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, emphasizing its staggering toll on health and well-being.

The silent threat

For older adults, the risks are especially pronounced, with studies showing heightened chances of developing dementia, cardiovascular diseases, and increased mortality rates. In older adults, loneliness is linked to a 50% higher risk of developing dementia, a 30% increased risk for incident coronary artery disease or stroke, and a 26% increased risk for all-cause mortality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a Commission on Social Connection in recognition of the seriousness of the pervasive problem. WHO says that current global estimates suggest that 1 in 4 older adults experience social isolation and between 5 and 15 per cent of adolescents experience loneliness. The Commission will propose a global agenda on social connection,

Insights from Europe

The first-ever EU-wide survey on loneliness, EU-LS 2022, conducted by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), shed light on the prevalence of loneliness across the continent. It revealed that around 13% of respondents reported feeling lonely most or all of the time. Interestingly, while loneliness is often associated with older adults, the survey highlighted its presence among young people as well.

“Some studies show a U-shaped relationship, with high levels of loneliness among both young and older adults, while others indicate a continued decrease in loneliness with age,” said Elizabeth Casabianca, a socioeconomic analyst at the JRC.

“Loneliness interventions are often targeted at older adults. Yet interventions are also needed for young people. Different age groups experience loneliness differently, so it is important to carefully consider the needs of the target group and tailor interventions accordingly,” she added in a press interview.

Navigating Social Media’s role:

The rise of social media has introduced a complex dynamic to the loneliness narrative. While it offers avenues for connection, excessive use has been correlated with increased loneliness. Understanding this relationship is crucial for developing interventions that utilise the advantages of technology while mitigating its adverse effects.

Professional care

Healthcare professionals can identify, and mitigate its impact. By integrating mental health assessments into routine care and facilitating access to community resources, they can provide holistic support to individuals grappling with loneliness.

Community-based solutions

At the grassroots level, community-based programs can foster social connections

Innovative projects worldwide are leveraging technology to bridge social gaps and combat loneliness. From Norway’s I2I (from Isolation to Inclusion) project promoting community engagement to Israel’s ElliQ chatbot fostering companionship among older adults, technology is emerging as a powerful ally in the fight against loneliness. Countries like Japan and England even have a loneliness minister. Other examples of community-based programs across the EU are the Barcelona’s strategy against loneliness [Spain] and the City of Pau anti-loneliness plan in France.

Joint Research Centre (JRC) collaborates closely with key stakeholders such as the WHO, Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection, UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness, academic scientists, and practitioners in the field.

Loneliness knows no boundaries—it affects individuals of all ages and backgrounds, casting a shadow on their health and well-being.. By fostering social connections and embracing innovative solutions, we can confront loneliness head-on.





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