80-Year-Old Barbara Hamilton
80-Year-Old Barbara Hamilton

Loneliness is as bad as 15 cigarettes a day

CHRONIC loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, research shows.

Australians are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, with almost half of sufferers saying they fear their situation was a long-term condition that was unlikely to change.

A study, of more than 500 Australians conducted for Feros Care, found feelings of helplessness, life-changing events, structural barriers, and biological predispositions were the leading causes of loneliness in our community.

As many as seven million Australians are lonely, with nearly half of those feeling lonely are under the age of 34.

In Great Company volunteer Juliet Bailey visiting Barbara Hamilton, 80, at her home in Robina. Picture: Richard Gosling
In Great Company volunteer Juliet Bailey visiting Barbara Hamilton, 80, at her home in Robina. Picture: Richard Gosling

Worryingly, almost half of people experiencing loneliness felt their situation was owing to long-term conditions that were unlikely to change.

While younger people, those aged 18 to 34 years, believe a lack of social skills and poor emotional health are the main causes of loneliness.

Be Someone For Someone' is an initiative by Feros Care, which supports more that 55,000 people along with their supporters and families to tackle loneliness together.

Jo Winwood, head of the initiative, said loneliness was a perfectly normal feeling, but chronic loneliness was what diminished long-term health and wellbeing.

"Loneliness is not simply time spent alone, it is the response people have when there is a gap between the social connection they desire and what they experience" she said.

"It is terrible to hear some people who feel so isolated in their homes they believe their voice will stop working, or worry they will never hear their name spoken again.

"For some of the people we visit, we are the only person who comes into the home week-to-week."

She said the health impacts of chronic loneliness were equilvent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The initiative prioritises face-to-face companionship and has improved the lives of many Australians, and support workers.

Robina woman Barbara Hamilton, 80, has been involved with Feros Care for almost 10 years, and appreciates the support and opportunities they provide.

"I don't drive anymore so it's been great to be able to go on trips to places like Byron Bay for the Writer's Festival" she said.

"Feros works hard to stimulate us mentally and make us a part of the community."

Carers such as Juliet Bailey also benefit from the partnerships.

"We have seen such beautiful friendships grow from the pairings, they span across generations, younger and older people have so much to learn from each other." she said.

NEVER WALK ALONE CAMPAIGN

The four aims of the campaign:

Increase awareness of loneliness to spark simple community actions - the small acts of kindness which cost nothing. Examples include running errands, walking the neighbour's dog, or checking in with a neighbour.

Destigmatise loneliness - feeling lonely is as fundamental as feeling thirsty or hungry.

Get training for frontline health workers to more easily recognise and respond to signs of loneliness in their patients or clients.

Prioritise strategies to tackle loneliness in all state and federal government health policy decisions, potentially by appointing a loneliness minister, or senior bureaucrat in charge.

Originally published as Loneliness is as bad as 15 cigarettes a day


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