Loneliness as bad for health as long-term illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure

Many years ago we had an elderly neighbour who used to while away the hours sitting in the waiting room of the local doctor’s surgery. She was not sick, just there for the company. She would happily sit and knit and chat with the other patients as they waited. As the Americans would say, it was a win-win all round – she got some company, nervous patients got a chat, and the doctor was happy that someone was distracting people from the wait times.

The story came back to my mind as I was reading a story on the BBC News about ‘GPs call for more help to tackle ‘epidemic of loneliness’‘:

Doctors in Northern Ireland have called for more support to deal with patients who complain of loneliness, saying it has become a “public health epidemic”.

For lonely patients, the 10-minute GP appointment model is “unfit for purpose” said the Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland.

RCGPNI said GPs need more time to care as they are sometimes “the only human contact” their lonely patients have.

RCGPNI said loneliness can seriously affect health and “puts people at a 50% increased risk of an early death”.

Five years ago, the Campaign to End Loneliness carried out a survey of more than 1,000 GPs across the the UK.

More than three-quarters of the doctors said they dealt with between one and five patients every day who came into the surgery mainly because they were lonely.

Many GPs will tell you only about 20% of their work is medical. The rest is trying to deal with societal issues like depression, isolation, lack of fulfilment etc.

Humans are social creatures and need contact with other people. The most powerful punishment you can give a prisoner is solitary confinement. We know from human history when we expelled people from the group it meant certain death. Given that human contact is so essential to wellness it is surprising that there is still such a stigma around loneliness – to admit to it is seen as a failing of some sort.

With the backlash against (anti) Social Media, we are realising that having 200 virtual friends is meaningless when you have no friends to share a dinner or drink with. It is an issue which can affect all areas of society, from teens trying to navigate the minefield of growing up to elderly widows coping with life on their own after decades of marriage. Maybe you are new in town and need to make some new friends, maybe you need an activity partner.

Fortunately, there are solutions. The general gist is turn off the TV and iPad and get out into the real world.

The Meetup website lists various groups in the Belfast area from walking groups to social evenings. Most events are free and they welcome all. Meetup is a worldwide site so do check as there may be groups near you.

Facebook events is another great resource for listing events coming up in your area.

If you want to get fit consider starting one of the many couch to 5k programmes. Parkrun is a fantastic free option to get fit and one I do myself every week. There are now 25 parkruns all around Northern Ireland so there should be one near you. Many people walk the parkrun, and they have been promoting walking recently so you don’t need to run.

The Men’s Shed movement is a group that meets to work on local projects like revamping a park, making boats, etc find your nearest one here… 

If you are a parent there is a toddler group practically every day of the week. I could write a book on baby groups but for now Mumsnet has a handy listRhythm and Rhyme groups at your local library are also great free entertainment.

And of course here at Slugger we run several live events throughout the year. We have some live events coming up so do try to join us. If you feel awkward about coming on your own just drop me an email and I will make sure to welcome you on the night and get you sorted. We are always looking for ideas for future events so all suggestions welcome.

So to conclude, get out there. People are quite nice once you get to know them 🙂