Loneliness affects more than half of Australians and has major impacts on health and happiness.
It does not discriminate and peaks in early adulthood, in line with decreasing social connections and rising life transitions such as relationship breakdowns and changing jobs, and escalates the risk of premature death to rates comparable to smoking and alcohol use.
The Australia Red Cross launched a campaign titled Beat Loneliness earlier this year, calling on Australians to look out for the triggers of loneliness, forge at least one strong connection, and reach out to friends and colleagues who they suspect could be suffering.
Ebony Gaylor, manager of community mobilisation at Australian Red Cross, says the charity decided to confront the issue because it offered an opportunity for people to take action within their own communities.
“We found it peaks both in late adulthood and early adulthood so there was some interesting opportunities for us to think about the role of Red Cross and community in tackling loneliness,” Ms Gaylor says.
“We really felt it was a social issue that could be mobilised around. It didn’t necessarily need clinical interventions or programs and it was something that communities could really do a lot about.”
The Beat Loneliness campaign has predominantly targeted millennials and endeavoured to raise awareness by tapping into eSports and social outdoor sport.
More broadly, it encourages people from all walks of life to contribute to the cause by reaching out and generating simple interactions.
Strategies suggested to combat loneliness include inviting a friend to so something new like signing up for a course together, inviting a colleague out to lunch, volunteering in the community, and sharing ways you’ve helped others overcome loneliness.
Ms Gaylor says the Beat Loneliness campaign was primarily focused on building on the positive things everyday Australians are already doing to stay connected and arming them with key messages to discuss and normalise the issue.
“I think within ourselves loneliness is actually a signal. So much like thirst and hunger are signals that we need to drink or eat, loneliness is the body’s way of telling us that we actually need to reach out and connect,” Ms Gaylor says.
“The exciting thing with loneliness is it’s not just up to you to solve it. You actually can look out for your entire community and network.”
Asked what role the rise of social media has played in the loneliness epidemic, Ms Gaylor says there is both positives and negatives when it comes to digital environments.
“Social media has definitely contributed to this gap in our expectations around healthy connections and relationships compared to where we’re at,” she says.
“Loneliness is essentially the experience of not being satisfied with the connections you’ve got.
“But [social media] also offers an incredible way to be able to nurture existing relationships and build new ones. The challenge we are really trying to lean into over the next decade or so is to figure out in a modern environment what healthy connections really look like.
“It’s not about having too many or not enough connections on Facebook or Instagram. It’s actually a reality that we will have blended face-to-face and digital relationships and I think we’ve got to get a lot more comfortable with that.”
Gaylor says the Red Cross has been amazed at the uptake of the campaign and its widespread impact.
She says work often forms one of the most important preventative factors when it comes to staving off loneliness but stressed professionals such as nurses and midwives need to ensure they get the balance right.
“Those professions where there is an incredible amount of intensity require quite a personal investment in the work, which can often mean that you’re not leaving enough behind to be able to invest in some of those easy interactions, whether it’s the friends or the family you’re not investing in as much.
“But I think those environments also create a huge amount of camaraderie as well. We would love to be working with nurses around setting up simple interactions, whether it’s a lunchtime quiz or a quiz night. I think it’s around looking at the connections you’ve got around you day in day out and figuring out how you build the strength of those connections.”
To find out more about the campaign click here