Herald Sun

No one ought to feel alone


IN 2013, 95,000 Liverpool fans packed the MCG and sang together the iconic club anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It was incredibly moving.

For a fleeting minute or so, everyone in that stadium was connected, as we all need to be.

Sadly, for many, that sense of connection and belonging is rare, and “walking alone” is the actual, painful reality of their lives.

Australia needs to talk much more about this reality.

Loneliness is a feeling of social isolation. It’s not having the connection­s we need. While very common, its consequenc­es aren’t well understood. Lonely people often don’t take steps to address what’s affecting them, and we aren’t well equipped to respond effectivel­y when people do reach out.

Before the pandemic, one in four Australian­s experience­d damaging levels of loneliness some or all of the time. Last year, the experience of COVID-19 doubled that rate to one in two. Half the population.

Loneliness must be regarded as a public health priority because it’s connected to issues like addiction, violence, anxiety and depression.

Late last year, Ending Loneliness Together, a national organisati­on dedicated to addressing loneliness, released a landmark white paper on the impact of loneliness in

Australia. It tells us people who are lonely and socially isolated are 29 per cent more likely to suffer coronary heart disease and 32 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke. Lonely adults have a 58 per cent higher risk of developing dementia.

The impact on mental health is no less alarming. People experienci­ng loneliness are 17 times more likely to have made a suicide attempt in the last 12 months.

These are compelling statistics, but it’s the personal stories of loneliness that leave the strongest mark. Younger Australian­s feeling lonely in the face of social media bullying. Middle or older age Australian­s struggling with severe loneliness through a major life transition — bereavemen­t, divorce, redundancy or retirement.

Because loneliness is subjective, sharing these stories is important. That's why Liberal MP Fiona

Martin and I have formed a bipartisan Parliament­ary Friends of Ending Loneliness group. In Britain, there’s a Minister for Loneliness.

And there is another reason to be optimistic. While 2020 saw a spike in loneliness, the pandemic has also brought home the fundamenta­l importance of social connection. This is something we must build on.

It will take more than a stirring song to end loneliness, but a shared commitment to not let our fellow Australian­s feel they are walking alone.

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