5C Relationship breakdown and re-partnering
New research reveals depth of Australian loneliness epidemic
Previous studies have identified a strong desire for social connection in humans, with the levels and quality of relationships found to be important in shaping development across the life span. When a person’s social needs are not adequately met, there may be a resultant complex set of feelings termed loneliness.
Research using data collected by the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey between 2001-09 estimated that around 9 per cent of Australians are lonely at any one time, with the number of people transitioning in and out of loneliness increasing over the period examined in the study (Baker, 2012).
Loneliness has been associated with a range of poor mental, physical and socio-economic outcomes. Adolescents who do not have close friendships and good social networks, for example, consistently report lower levels of self-esteem, more psychological symptoms of maladjustment, and are at higher risk of suicide (Pervin & Nafiza 2016; Matthews et al. 2016). There are also well-established relationships between social isolation and depression (Rubin & Mills, 1998), lower levels of self-worth (Qualter & Munn, 2002) and poor physical health for adults. In recent meta-analyses and reviews, people who are socially isolated, or do not have good quality social support, are at greater risk of mortality, comparable with well-established physical health risk factors such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad et al. 2016; Voltorta 2016).
Increasing our awareness is likely to improve our response as loneliness is described as an evolutionary signal for us to seek out others to reduce our loneliness (Cacioppo et. al. 2013). Strategies that are likely to reduce loneliness include public awareness campaigns; programs that promote engagement in meaningful groups, such as social prescribing and community connectedness; programs that promote strong and healthy family relationships; and therapeutic support to help the lonely person improve their interaction with others.
This presentation utilises 16 waves of HILDA survey data to examine the nature of loneliness in Australia. It provides contemporary prevalence estimates and provides a longitudinal view of the changing nature of loneliness over time. The research reveals disturbingly high rates of loneliness for particular vulnerable groups, including single parents, widows and families negatively impacted by poverty.