A pandemic of loneliness and isolation

Loneliness and isolation are problems that permeate all levels of our communities and, despite the dire effect on people’s lives, remain an under-prioritised health issue.

Studies have shown that enduring loneliness and isolation is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking more than six units of alcohol each and every day. In some quarters, it is considered more dangerous to health than obesity.

It is linked to depression, dementia, strokes, heart disease and suicide. In a word, it is deadly.

Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published a report describing loneliness and isolation as “profound threats to our health and wellbeing”. Here in the UK, the significance of the devastating impacts of loneliness was recognised in 2018 with the appointment of a minister for loneliness.

It is a worldwide problem and one that is now being taken seriously at the highest levels of Government. Japan has also appointed a minister for loneliness, Sweden has a minister for social affairs and there have been calls in Australia and other countries for an appointment.

We have stolen a march on the issue here in the Bay and know more about the root causes of loneliness and isolation due to the Ageing Well programme that Torbay Communities ran between 2015 and 2022, working with over 50-year-olds across the Bay.

We discovered that we could reduce the number of doctor and hospital visits and reduce mental health problems by reducing loneliness and isolation by bringing people together.

But it doesn’t just affect older people. Recent studies have shown that it affects people of all ages, and is a worryingly increasing issue among young people.

Around one in five people in the UK report feeling lonely at least some of the time, and the reasons for that are numerous and various, but most are surmountable once identified.

So, if we know the cure for such a pernicious and potentially devastating condition, why isn’t more being done to tackle it nationwide as it is here in Torbay?

As a resident of the Bay, you are one of the lucky ones as organisations including Torbay Communities, AgeUK Torbay and Brixham Does Care are all actively working to tackle the problem at its root in the heart of our communities.

Our Community Builders, established as part of the multi-million pound Ageing Well project, continue to work in communities across the Bay but have widened their remit to include people of all ages.

They work alongside other groups and organisations to ensure that the needs of potentially lonely and isolated people, no matter the age, are met through a Bay-wide network of support services.

We help maintain a team of befrienders who are available to make phone calls to people who might otherwise not have a conversation from week to week. We also go one stage further with specialist befrienders who are able to provide first-stage counselling for those whose mental health is suffering.

And of course, our team of Community Builders are active and present in all aspects of community life, whether that is supporting vulnerable individuals or throwing their not-inconsiderable expertise into events, meetings and gatherings that take place in halls, cafes and community centres across the Bay every day of the week.

If you are unsure who your Community Builder is and have access to a computer, then a good starting point is www.torbaycommunities.com/builders/, where you will find their details.

If you need support, no matter what it is, then ring the Torbay Community Helpline on 01803 446022 – one call, that’s all, no matter what the question is there will be a friendly voice at the end of the line, ready to help.

Nowadays, it is much easier than most people think to become lonely and isolated. At one end of the scale, it might be because of school ground bullying or social media and at the other because of mobility issues and bereavement.

But the good news is that there is a solution available for nearly everybody, all you have to do is make the first move and reach out. We, or someone we know, will do the rest. That number again, 01803 446022.

Image by wirestock on Freepik