Loneliness and Health

loneliness spelled out in scrabble letters

In this blog, EaRN volunteer James discusses the the effect of loneliness on our health and wellbeing.

We decided to look at loneliness because it is very much a current issue. Our primary goal was to look at all aspects of loneliness and we started by looking at a British Medical Association blog from 06/05/2022 by Melody Redman (who is the deputy chair on the BMA board of science in Yorkshire). 

We are not meant to be alone. We all need connection, community and companionship. We may appreciate some time on our own but that is different. 

In this report it was outlined that worse health outcomes like coronary heart disease and stroke and depression in later life were associated with loneliness. 

It was identified that loneliness could be classified as emotional, social, existential, transient, situational and chronic. 

It also gave a definition of loneliness as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling or lack of or loss of companionship. It happens when there is a mismatch between the quality and quantity that we have and those we want. 

We were also told in the report that loneliness in the UK is higher for people who are: 

  • 16 – 24 
  • Female 
  • Single or widowed 
  • Live with a limiting mental health condition 
  • Are renting 
  • Have lower neighbourhood belonging 
  • Have lower social trust 

Experiences can differ in intensity. This can change from moment to moment over different durations of time and in different contexts. 

It also gave some interesting statistics although loneliness in the workplace is under researched. 

  • 1 in 10 feel lonely at work often or always 
  • 50% some of the time 

We also need to consider recent changes in working patterns: 19% work from home and 24% are hybrid workers. 

The report had also noted that changes in working location during the Covid-19 pandemic led to improved relationships for many although there is little evidence to suggest that more contact with colleagues leads to less loneliness is subjective and distinct from isolation. 

Why it is so important to try and alleviate loneliness was identified by some of the negative impacts on lives and how it can affect our health and well-being. 

One statistic that stands out is that loneliness can increase the risk of early mortality by 26%. Poorer mental health and depression are also impacts of loneliness. The research showed that 60% of people experiencing chronic loneliness experience mental distress compared to 15% of people who are not chronically lonely. 62% of young people say that feeling lonely makes them lose confidence in themselves. Loneliness is associated with elevated blood pressure and acute stress. Loneliness is associated with poorer sleep quality in young adults and sleep inadequacy in the general population. 

The report also identified that loneliness can impact on engagement with education and employment. The impacts were mainly lower educational attainment in early adolescence. A large number 48% of young people say that feeling lonely makes them less likely to want to progress in work.  

One thing that was noted was that higher loneliness is associated with poorer work performance. 

The study estimates the cost of severe loneliness at around £9,900 per person due to its combined impact on wellbeing, health and productivity. Loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 million a year due to its impact on employee sickness, caring activity, productivity and voluntary staff turnover. 

The report also highlighted that people with disabilities feel lonely. Research by Sense found that it was over half of people. It is much higher 77% when considering young people with a disability. What also stood out as a very interesting statistic was that amongst carers, 81% felt lonely or socially isolated as result of their caring role. 

The report also mentions that LGBTQ people are at greater risk of loneliness. Recent evidence is limited so far but shows that social rejection, exclusion and discrimination can lead LGBTQ people to feel more lonely. 

There is also a large ethnic minority picture to be seen where loneliness has been a direct impact of discrimination. 

The report questions; should we do more to address loneliness? Yes, of course, we should and there are several ways to do so. A referral to your GP for health matters is an excellent start as he or she can direct you to community link workers to assist to groups or local services. There are also many different organisations for each group that we have mentioned that you could be signposted to. The resources do exist it is a question of getting people there. It is also a question of making people aware of these.