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The Mental Health Foundation Scotland has welcomed the publication of “A Connected Scotland”, the Scottish Government’s strategy to tackle loneliness and isolation, but has warned that urgent action must be taken to address mental health problems like depression and anxiety in both young people and older adults as a consequence of feeling lonely.
Loneliness can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia and cognitive decline including dementia, and it is a well-known factor in suicide. It can be both a cause and effect of mental health problems.
The charity’s research has found that young people and over 65s are the two age groups most at risk of loneliness, and as a consequence at risk of mental ill-health.
More than half (51%) of 18-24 year olds experience depression when they feel lonely, while 42% said it leads to anxiety. As many as 67% said that their mental health worsens as a result of feeling lonely.
The research also found that 1 in 4 people aged 65 and over experience depression when they last felt lonely, with 16% saying it also leads to anxiety. This equates to around 120,000 older Scots who could be living with undiagnosed depression.
Lee Knifton, Director of Scotland and Northern Ireland said: “We’re delighted that the Scottish Government has published a strategy on tackling loneliness and social isolation in our communities. But the elephant in the room is the growing number of young people in emotional distress, including children who struggle to form relationships at a young age.
“Relationships and social connections remain at the heart of what makes and breaks our mental health. A child's ability to communicate and form relationships is vital right from the point that they enter the education system if they are to thrive at school - and “school readiness” is one of the strongest predictors of whether a child will go on to develop mental health problems.
“Helping young people to develop good relationship-building skills and do more to support adults under stress, ensuring that they are equipped to support our young people and that their own stress doesn’t leak onto those in their charge. That’s why we’re campaigning for all school staff to receive mental health training.
“Our research is clear that older people are less likely to visit a GP or talk to a family member about feeling lonely so we estimate that as many as 120,000 older Scots could be living with undiagnosed depression.
“Feeling lonely is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s a consequence of our fragmented society. Older people need to be supported to seek help and expect that there will be appropriate responses available.
“If we prevent loneliness we can prevent mental health problems and reduce hospital admissions. Too many older people are stuck in hospital wards at this time of year as there is no alternative for them – but in many cases it’s not an acute need, but a social and community response they require.
“Last year we published a 12-point plan on tackling social isolation including investing in inter-generation projects and social prescribing. We’re delighted that several of our recommendations have been acknowledged in the strategy. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that the £1 million that has been earmarked for innovative projects will reach those who need it most.”
If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.
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A-Z Topic: Children and young people
Mental health problems affect around one in six children. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder (a type of behavioural problem), and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.