AS research confirms that men tend to have fewer friends than women, Kate Whiting studies the stats and finds out what we can do about it
Chances are, most people have seen this year’s Christmas John Lewis advert entitled ‘The Man On The Moon’. Whether you love it, are indifferent or have managed to avoid it altogether, the ad links to Age UK and aims to raise awareness of the plight of older people, some of whom can go a month without speaking to anyone.
Like the ‘man in the moon’, it’s often men, more than women, who can feel the most lonely, according to the Movember Foundation, which has just released new statistics showing how few friends men have, including 19 per cent of over-55s saying they lacked a close friend.
The survey also found that 12 per cent of men do not have a friend they would discuss a serious topic with - such as work worries, a health problem or money worries - while just over half of men (51 per cent) have two friends or less that they would open up to about a serious problem.
In addition, 9 per cent admitted they don’t remember the last time they made contact with their friends; 26 per cent say they make contact with their mates less than once a month, and almost half (43 per cent) of men have NEVER told a friend that they love them.
It’s part of a global problem, according to the charity, which points out that World Health Organisation (WHO) research shows that almost one in four men - worldwide - experience low levels of social support, and a quarter have no one outside their immediate family to rely on.
The Movember Foundation, which encourages men to grow moustaches and get active throughout November as part of their now familiar awareness campaign, is dedicated to giving men longer, healthier, happier lives, and says isolation and loneliness is one of the main risk factors linked to poor mental health.
“Men tend not to prioritise their friends to the same extent as women, a trend which has a negative impact on their health in the longer term, including increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicide,” a charity spokesperson notes.
In 2013, the male suicide rate was the highest it’s been since 2001, and one in eight men in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
Men also tend to experience feelings of isolation and loneliness more during huge life events, such as break-ups, losing jobs, bereavement or becoming a father.
Paul Villanti, Movember Foundation executive director of programmes, says: “Encouraging men to be more socially connected and drawing on these relationships when they go through tough times and transitions in life, is a critical priority for the Movember Foundation, as we seek to improve the health and wellbeing of men, and contribute to the reduction in the number of men that die by suicide.”
“One of the things we see is that men are out of the habit of striking up new friendships,” Sarah Coghlan, country director for Movember UK, recently told the Telegraph. “Women are quite comfortable with striking up a new friendship and saying, ‘Hi, do you want to go for a glass of wine after work or even see a film next Tuesday?’ We have to find innovative means to get men to reconnect with each other.”
The Movember Foundation is launching a Social Innovators Challenge in Australia, the UK and Canada, with £2.4million set aside to tackle the issue of helping men to make more connections. They’re inviting anyone with ideas to submit them in 500 words by December 10 (Visit socialconnection.fluidreview.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Marcus Rand, from Campaign To End Loneliness, backs the initiative, and adds: “Loneliness, and in particular the issue of loneliness among men, is at last being talked about openly.
“Two brilliant initiatives that have taken off are Men’s Sheds (menssheds.org.uk), a way for guys to meet, and Walking Football (www.walkingfootballunited.co.uk). Both schemes expanded significantly over the past year, showing there is huge demand.
“We all need face-to-face interaction - it’s what makes us human, and so special.”