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Loneliness in the digital age: Heading for a “public health catastrophe”

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Experts say that the mind and body are inseparable, and that loneliness can be connected with heart disease, diabetes and dementia. New data showing soaring heights of loneliness could mean we are heading straight into a public health “catastrophe”. 

Over three million of us are struggling with loneliness in the UK alone (ONS). In the US, one in four adults are classified as having fair or poor mental health, and among them, 85% are lonely compared to 42% of adults with excellent or very good mental health.

As the numbers rise around the world, so does the evidence that the pain of loneliness can have a massive impact on our physical health as well as mental and emotional health. 

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has actually found chronic loneliness has been associated with depression, anxiety, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia

This is causing concern that, as we accelerate into the digital age, we will become less connected, and more unwell. 

Health tech for loneliness 

Whether it’s a move in the right direction or not remains to be seen. But there is advanced technology including AI chatbots and physical robots claiming to have the cure for global loneliness. 

As reported by Health Tech World, Dr Charlotte Russell, a clinical psychologist working in mental health, said that the human need for connection is a “primary need”.

She said: ““It is well established that loneliness can contribute to increased anxiety and depression and have a negative effect on our well-being generally.

“Human beings are a social species and connection with others is a primary need for us. If we lack human connection this can have a negative impact on our well-being very quickly.”

“Urgency and action”

The loneliness epidemic in the UK needs to be met with urgency and action, especially amongst our ageing population. Hannah Thomson, founder of The Joy Club has commented on the latest data:

Hannah Thomson, Founder CEO of age tech brand, The Joy Club commented: “There’s no two ways about it, we’re heading towards a public health catastrophe.

“With loneliness the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, these latest figures should be acting as a wake up call that social isolation is amongst the most pressing social issues we are facing today.

“In the UK, almost one quarter (22%) of our population will be aged 65 and over within the next decade – that’s 13 million people. 

“Almost one half (49%) of over 65s consider a pet or the TV to be their main companion.:

Loneliness – “often overlooked” issue

She added: “The time is now to address the issue of loneliness in later life. Be it through community-driven tech, online events or digital content, the right kind of technology can help to provide a solution to the epidemic of social isolation we face today. 

“And with 9 in 10 retirees aged 65-74 (5 in 10 retirees aged 75+) frequent internet users, there’s no excuse for these generations to be underserved or overlooked by technology companies.”

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