Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness
Katie Hafner has a very interesting report in the NY Times:
The woman on the other end of the phone spoke lightheartedly of spring and of her 81st birthday the previous week.
“Who did you celebrate with, Beryl?” asked Alison, whose job was to offer a kind ear.
“No one, I…”
And with that, Beryl’s cheer turned to despair.
Her voice began to quaver as she acknowledged that she had been alone at home not just on her birthday, but for days and days. The telephone conversation was the first time she had spoken in more than a week.
About 10,000 similar calls come in weekly to an unassuming office building in this seaside town at the northwest reaches of England, which houses TheSilver Line Helpline, a 24-hour call center for older adults seeking to fill a basic need: contact with other people.
Loneliness, which Emily Dickinson described as “the Horror not to be surveyed,” is a quiet devastation. But in Britain, it is increasingly being viewed as something more: a serious public health issue deserving of public funds and national attention.
Working with local governments and the National Health Service, programs aimed at mitigating loneliness have sprung up in dozens of cities and towns. Even fire brigades have been trained to inspect homes not just for fire safetybut for signs of social isolation.
“There’s been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media,” said Paul Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire and a founder of The Campaign to End Loneliness, a five-year-old group based in London. “Loneliness has to be everybody’s business.”
“The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem,” said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco. “It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.”
In Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone, and in the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. . .