One in four Australians are lonely: research
The most comprehensive report on loneliness in Australia has revealed that a quarter of adults are lonely for three or more days of the week, and this has significant implications for their mental and physical health.
The Australian Loneliness Report, released by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University, also found that one in two (50.5 per cent) Australians feels lonely for at least one day in a week, while more than one-fifth of people rarely or never feel they have someone to talk to or turn to for help.
These results come from an online survey completed by 1,678 people from across Australia between 29 May and 1 October 2018. The survey continues to be run by Swinburne University to track loneliness levels over time.
As part of the research. loneliness was measured using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a comprehensive gold standard measure of loneliness, with a range from 20-80 with higher scores indicating a higher level of loneliness.
Dr Michelle Lim, senior lecturer and clinical psychologist from Swinburne University of Technology told doctorportal that “loneliness matters as it affects our health and the social fabric of our community – there may be evidence that it affects workplace productivity.”
Lonely Australians have significantly worse mental and physical health.
The report found that lonely Australians are 15.2% more likely to be depressed and 13.1% more likely to be anxious about social interactions than those who are not lonely.
Higher levels of loneliness are also associated with less social interaction, poorer psychological well-being and poorer quality of life.
Previous research has established that loneliness increases the likelihood of an earlier death by 26%. High levels of loneliness are associated with poorer overall physical health, increased number of headaches, poor sleep and worse experience of physical pain.
Loneliness did not discriminate significantly by age. The oldest Australians (over 65 years) were the least lonely, while there were no differences in loneliness levels between other age groups. Younger adults reported significantly more social interaction anxiety than older adults.
What causes loneliness and how can we address it?
Dr Lim said that while the specific causes of loneliness are unknown at present, there are correlates of loneliness that can be measured, such as marital status or living alone, which indicates these may influence loneliness.
The report found that Australians who are married are the least lonely compared to those who are single, separated or divorced. Australians in a de facto relationship are also less lonely than those who are not.
Dr Lim said that at present, service providers encountering loneliness do not have any guidance or training to assist with it, and there continues to be a lack of awareness of the consequences of loneliness.
“Educating and normalising loneliness as a normal human condition is the first step.”
Dr Lim said that in particular, “we need guidelines, for example for first responders on how to deal with lonely people who present at health services”. These guidelines must outline where a lonely person can go for support and highlight the kind of resources that will be made available to that person.
She said that strategies also needed to be developed and implemented to encourage people experiencing loneliness to make more meaningful connections.