HEALTH: New cabinet minister in UK: Minister for Loneliness

Ever heard of Tracey Crouch?

If you live in the UK and keep up with the political news, she is a newly appointed minister in the Theresa May government.

But what might really interest you is what her ministry is about.

The government of the UK is very concerned about the health of its citizens, their health beyond physical illnesses or medical maladies. The UK worries about their emotional and mental wellbeing. And now the government of Theresa May has appointed a Minister for Loneliness.

Loneliness is a real problem
Loneliness is a serious problem, especially among older people. Even in this day and age of advanced technology, smartphone connectivity and the treadmill of tweeting, many people suffer the effects of loneliness and they are serious effects.

Being alone with no social engagement with family or friends can be more unhealthy than being obese. A study from Britain has confirmed this health risk. Read the details at LONELINESS LINK Being alone without social engagement with family and friends can be more dangerous to a person’s health than obesity.

The study examined the physical impact on people as opposed to the mental or emotional. It found that loneliness has a very real and negative impact on people’s health. Loneliness causes the body to produce more fribrinogen, a fatty protein, which causes increased blood pressure and increases fatty deposits in the arteries. In short, loneliness kills people.

Living on your own
If you are living on your own and have no or very little social contact with other people, you might consider examining your own social interactivity. Ask yourself some hard questions about how often you engage with other people.

Assess your social interaction with others in a realistic way. You do not have to be with people every day, but if you are not engaging with anyone for weeks on end, your socialization with others needs closer review, for your health’s sake.

The Toronto Star editorial (Jan. 21, 2018) addressed the issue this way.

Lonely? You’re far from alone
At first blush, the news that British Prime Minister Theresa May has named a “minister for loneliness” might appear rather odd. Addressing loneliness, after all, doesn’t usually top any list of government priorities.

In fact, May’s announcement that one of her ministers will lead a government-wide group to establish policies to fight loneliness is both sensible and long overdue.

One of the biggest challenges with addressing loneliness is that it is such a stigmatized condition that few want to talk about it or even admit to feeling it.

Despite that, more and more people in modern societies, Canada every bit as much as Britain, suffer from it. Aside from the misery it causes, it’s putting enormous pressure on health-care systems.

In Britain, for example, research has found that more than nine million people often or always feel lonely. One survey found that 360,000 people over 65 had not had a conversation with friends or family for a week, while 200,000 hadn’t had one in more than a month.

Loneliness doesn’t just afflict the elderly. One of the people who suffered from it was the late British MP Jo Cox, who before she was murdered in 2016 set up the cross-party commission that worked with the British Red Cross to “shine a spotlight on the problem.” Her sister reports that Cox first felt loneliness at university.

That is, apparently, not unusual. Indeed, a 2016 survey found that two-thirds of Canadian university students admitted to feeling “very lonely” in the previous year. Overall, about 20 percent of Canadian adults experience loneliness, according to Andrew Wister, director of the Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University. In the U.S. the estimate is even higher – 40 percent. The research also suggests that loneliness can, quite literally, kill you. It’s worse for one’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, is as dangerous as obesity and increases the likelihood of an early death by 26 percent. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy argued in the Harvard Business Review last year that loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.

It’s a real issue and it’s getting worse. We can expect modern living arrangements, the fragmentation of traditional communities and the breakdown of extended families to exacerbate the problem.

For example, Canada’s most recent census found that people living alone accounted for 28 percent all households in 2016. They were, in fact, the most common type of households for the first time that year, ahead of couples with or without children, single-parent families, multiple family households and all other combinations of people living together.

At the same time, people are staying single longer. Data in Quebec, for example, shows the average age of a first marriage for a man in 2016 was 33.4 years and 31.9 for women — a rise of 7.8 years for men and 8.5 for women since 1971.

Even the move to shopping online can isolate people and give them less opportunity to interact with others, the experts say.

But there’s also help online. Toronto graphic designer Marissa Korda, for example, launched a website called the Loneliness Project featuring stories from people who suffered from the condition so they would know they aren’t alone.

Some things are being done
There are many things that can be done. One emerging solution is seniors’ residences that offer students apartments at low rents to encourage them to move in and mix with the elderly. At Western University, music students can even get free accommodation and meals in exchange for spending 12 hours a week with seniors.

The “yes” movement
Then there’s the movement to just say “yes” to everything. The idea is to open oneself up to new experiences and avoid closing off from others. “Yes puts you in situations you’re not comfortable with and helps you get out there,” says Neil Pasricha, bestselling author of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation.

Canada need not go so far as to create a ministry of loneliness. But governments can take a lead from May in other ways. In addition to naming a minister, she also announced that Britain’s version of Statistics Canada will establish a method of measuring loneliness and a fund will be set up to help the government and charities develop a wider strategy.

What’s clear is that too many people are suffering in silence. They need to know that they are, in fact, not alone and there are solutions. This is a real and growing issue that needs to be openly addressed.
Toronto Star, Jan. 21, 2018

Read more about some strategies which may help you to deal with loneliness at LONELY.

 

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