Intended for healthcare professionals


Sixty seconds on . . . loneliness

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 24 January 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k300
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London

This is a bit depressing

Sorry about that but here’s some good news—the government has appointed Tracey Crouch as the UK’s very first minister for loneliness. The government made the appointment after accepting all the recommendations of a commission on loneliness, set up after the murder of MP Jo Cox. Loneliness was an issue that was close to Cox’s heart.

Is loneliness a big problem?

There is a wealth of statistics on the subject: 58% of migrants and refugees in London described loneliness and isolation as their biggest challenge; 43% of 17 to 25 year olds who used Action for Children services experienced loneliness; and eight out of 10 carers experience loneliness.1

Are there any links to health?

Lots! One meta-analysis of 148 studies found that social isolation, loneliness, or living alone had a significant effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to other risk factors such as obesity and smoking.2 Lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in the US, described a loneliness epidemic, with a huge public health impact.

And do lonely people visit the doctor more?

Most GPs would agree. Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told last year’s annual conference, “GPs see patients, many of whom are widowed, who have multiple health problems like diabetes, hypertension, and depression. But often their main problem isn’t medical: they’re lonely.”3 And her hunch is backed up by data: according to the American Journal of Public Health, chronic loneliness is significantly associated with more visits to the doctor.4

Is a minister for loneliness a worldwide first?

Impossible to say, but publications from the US to India have reported the news—so it’s either very unusual or a slow news day. Most people have given the UK government a pat on the back, with Jo Cox’s widower, Brendan, particularly welcoming the news. He tweeted, “Appointing a minister might not sound like much, but in tackling a complex crisis like loneliness that cuts across departments it will provide much needed leadership and accountability.”


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