A Federal Labor MP is currently developing an urgent national response to address loneliness and social isolation in Australia, calling the issue a “national crisis”.
Labor MP Andrew Giles said the Australian loneliness report had uncovered some shocking findings.
“One in four Australians experience loneliness and loneliness affects all age groups and genders equally,” he said.
Mr Giles said former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy had outlined critical health impacts of being lonely.
“It’s associated with a reduction in lifespan and was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” he said.
“People suffering loneliness are at greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.”
Mr Giles said Labor was committed to supporting further research into the causes of loneliness, who is affected and how to treat it.
“I am concerned that loneliness appears to impact socially excluded groups, and this compounds disadvantage elsewhere in society,” he said.
Relationships Australia released survey results in September 2018 which found poverty, unemployment and poor relationships contributed to loneliness.
Australian Coalition to End Loneliness scientific chair Michelle Lim said recent research raised concerns.
“At least one quarter of Australians across the nation reported quite high levels of loneliness which is what I would consider problematic,” Dr Lim said.
Dr Lim, the director of Swinburn University’s Social Health and Wellbeing Laboratory said her research showed a link between social anxiety and loneliness.
“We do know that if you are lonely then you are more likely to experience depression, social anxiety and paranoia,” she said.
“If you are socially anxious, are avoiding people or have a fear of judgment you are more likely to be lonely.”
Dr Lim said treating loneliness was not just about increasing socialisation and more research was needed to address the issue and treat symptoms.
“People tend to think treating loneliness requires more resources or getting people to think about their social relationships,” she said.
“Lonely people can often be disempowered and sometimes the community solutions fail to address the underlying symptoms of loneliness.”
The UK recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness after research from the Jo Cox Commission found it was affecting over 9 million people in Britain.
Dr Lim said Australia lagged behind other countries in tackling the issue.
“We are still at our infancy stage,” she said.
“There are opportunities to address this issue before things become problematic.”
Relationships Australia executive officer Nick Tebbey agreed loneliness was a national crisis.
“One in 10 people say they lack social support and one in six say they are experiencing emotional loneliness,” he said.
Mr Tebbey said Relationships Australia offered family support, counseling and mental health services which could help people experiencing social anxiety.
“What we are missing are social programs that are designed to target loneliness directly,” he said.
“We are looking at enhancing social engagement programs, that’s where we would like to see the research and policy development lead to.”