We have created a society in which more than 100,000 elderly Scots will eat Christmas dinner alone.
In 2015, a systematic review of 70 different scientific studies – carried out over 34 years and involving more than 3.4 million people – concluded that feeling lonely was associated with a 26 per cent increase in the risk of an early death.
The lead author of the review, Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, compared loneliness to obesity in terms of the harm it does to health, warning that “we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously”.
Humans are among the most social animals and are the most intelligent, so it should not have come as a surprise that being cut off from the rest of society can cause distress that is severe enough to affect our health.
But, four years on from that landmark study, loneliness remains a problem for tens of thousands of Scots, particularly elderly people. According to new research from Age Scotland, one in six of the older generation – that’s about 184,000 people – say they often feel more lonely at Christmas than at any other time of year. Nearly 110,000 will eat Christmas dinner alone.
This is the society we have created and we are the only people who can do something about it. And yet, overshadowed by issues like Brexit, independence, the NHS, schools and a whole raft of other pressing matters, it is too often overlooked in our public discourse.
For all these reasons, the Scotsman is today launching a campaign in an attempt to raise the profile of loneliness – in support of Age Scotland and Age UK’s ‘No One Should Have No One’ campaign – and to give a voice to the voiceless.
If we think about it, we can all probably do a bit more. We can extend the hand of friendship to relatives and others who we know are lonely. Sometimes it can be difficult or a bit awkward at first, but such feelings will usually dissipate over time. It is not naive to say that the vast majority of people are friendly, decent and kind.
Modern living has physically stretched the bonds of family as people have moved hundreds of miles away to find better jobs and this has left many elderly people on their own as family and friends of their own generation have died.
But it cannot be beyond our wit to find ways of bringing people together if they are feeling isolated and alone. We must do better and not just for the sake of public health but public happiness too.
From the NHS website: Five steps to mental wellbeing