Updated: Sep 16, 2021
We all get lonely at some point in our lives - and it is a horrible feeling.
But I didn’t realise just how much loneliness had become such a pervasive and damaging problem across communities up and down the country - even before the pandemic. Now, after prolonged isolation, we face a growing loneliness crisis that could last far longer than many of the physical impacts of Covid.
Regular research highlights that loneliness is now one of the biggest threats to our health as well as our happiness. It impacts our mental health and can directly lead to anxiety and depression as well as lowering immune responses, raising blood pressure and even accelerating cognitive decline.
Indeed, a recent BBC article summed it up. It highlighted that loneliness is a 'bigger health risk than smoking or obesity'. It cited a Welsh Government recommendation that GPs need to subscribe social activities to try and combat this huge and growing problem.
It is becoming increasingly clear that loneliness has a severe impact on all parts of the community.
Even though the loneliness pandemic amongst older adults in our society has been well documented for some time, the problem is getting worse rather than better. For example, a recent review by 10 leading charities has found that a million people over 65 in the UK are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions. A further survey by Age UK found that, compared with before the pandemic, one in three respondents said they had less energy, one in four were unable to walk as far as before, and one in five felt less steady on their feet. And reaching out through technology does not appear to be the answer. Over-60s who relied on only telephone and online contact felt more lonely during the pandemic, a study suggests. "Virtual contact on its own is not beneficial to older adults' mental health", researcher Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University told the BBC. However, when used to supplement face-to-face contact, it was associated with "enhanced mental wellbeing". But it is not just older adults. Research has concluded that 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to 25 million people! Meanwhile a survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17 – 25 year olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness. Teen loneliness, particularly among adolescent girls, has been increasing worldwide since 2012, which researchers said also coincides with the rise in smartphone access and increased internet use, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescence. Work used to be a great way for people to meet. However, a recent survey by leading team building business Wildgoose highlighted that loneliness at work has grown significantly during the pandemic, with almost half of Londoners saying they did not have a good friend at work. Two in five employees don’t have any friends at work. Perhaps the most heartbreaking statistic of all is that one in four UK adults have not been hugged for more than a year and a third of adults feel there are fewer opportunities to make new connections now than there were during the first lockdown. The findings are from a poll by the cross-party think tank Demos, which spoke to 1,000 UK adults about their connections with others during the pandemic. It found that almost two thirds (64%) of respondents said they have not made a new friend for six months, and 44% have not done so in more than a year. In short, we are a lonely society and are only getting lonelier. That is why I believe the Walk and Talk Movement is so important for all of us, and all parts of the community. Together we can tackle loneliness. By meeting new people and having new conversations each week. By getting out together in the fresh air in your local green space. By helping and supporting your neighbours and your community. Walking and talking can make a meaningful difference to you and the people around you. We can all help beat loneliness, help each other and help ourselves – one step at a time. Let’s get walking and talking. Let’s Get Involved.
Andy Yates, Co Founder The Walk and Talk Movement