The Advertiser

Friends on both sides of politics

- ELLEN WHINNETT NATIONAL INVESTIGAT­IONS EDITOR

A BIPARTISAN political group has been establishe­d in Canberra to raise awareness of the loneliness crisis and help drive policies to tackle it.

Parliament­ary Friends for Ending Loneliness was launched late last year, chaired by Victorian Labor MP Andrew Giles and NSW Liberal MP Fiona Martin.

The pair said the group would work to raise the profile of the loneliness epidemic and reduce the social and economic harm it causes.

Mr Giles said loneliness needed to be talked about in a political and policy sense.

“We know that loneliness is bad for your health, in fact we know loneliness can kill,’’ he said.

“There’s still a big stigma attached to loneliness. It’s something that impacts people’s lives but people often don’t feel they can talk about it, the significan­ce it has for them.

“My hope is that through the work of this group, we can do with this issue what’s been done for an issue like mental health perhaps 30 years ago when it wasn’t treated as seriously as it should have been.’’

Mr Giles said a debate could be held on whether state or federal government­s ought to appoint a Loneliness Minister, as the UK government had done, to ensure policies tackling loneliness were developed alongside other health, social and economic policies.

Another option was to create a bureaucrat­ic structure with responsibi­lity for the issue.

“If this is sufficient­ly concerning as a public health question in the UK, why aren’t we talking about it in Australia?’’ he said.

“That’s what I am determined to try to work towards with this parliament­ary friendship group. I think there will probably be some political difference­s in terms of how we respond to loneliness.

“But I think Fiona and I will be in agreement that the first thing we’ve got to do is make sure this is an issue that’s discussed when we talk about the policy challenges that face our country.’’

Dr Martin, a psychologi­st, said it was important to educate community organisati­ons and health practition­ers to better identify, assess and treat those experienci­ng loneliness.

“Loneliness is associated with numerous physical and mental health conditions and is one of the biggest public health issues of our time,’’ she said.

“Like many public health issues, early interventi­on and prevention is an important way to reduce the prevalence of loneliness in our communitie­s.

“That’s why I support an evidence-based approach to tackling loneliness in children and adolescent­s to ensure young people will have the skills they need to feel more engaged and truly connected.

“This will ultimately help reduce the economic and human costs of loneliness.’’

Dr Martin did not express a view on whether a Loneliness Minister ought to be appointed, but did say it was “best addressed through the health and mental health portfolios so it can be comprehens­ively integrated into existing policies.’’

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