Loneliness: the public health challenge of our time

A policy briefing by the Mental Health Foundation and Age Scotland

Loneliness is one of the leading public health challenges of our time. Research suggests more than 100,000 older people in Scotland are “chronically lonely” and it’s as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

If we are serious about ensuring older people enjoy a good quality of life then the prevalence of loneliness must be fully recognised and addressed.

What does the data tell us?

  • 24% of adults aged 65+ feel depressed and 16% feel anxious as a result of loneliness.
  • Nearly a third of older adults feel that they ought to be able to cope with loneliness by themselves.
  • 15% of older adults see spending time on social media as improving their mental health.
  • However nearly 20% of older adults see technology as replacing face to face contact and so actually causing loneliness.
  • 6% of older Scots will spend Christmas alone (up by 50% from 2015 figures).
  • 1 in 5 keep the TV on most of the day because “It’s lovely to hear human voices” while 8 % say it’s their main source of company over the festive period.

Policy recommendations

  1. Investment in community services to reduce and prevent hospital admissions.
  2. A 'welcome home box' for every discharged patient.
  3. Building relationships of care between care staff and older people.
  4. Placing social prescribing front and centre in primary care.
  5. Investing in community transport to keep marginalised older people connected.
  6. Reaching out to older people who are not connected to the internet.
  7. Phased retirement and greater support from employers.
  8. Treating older people as assets to society.
  9. Tackling poverty and inequality in later life.
  10. Promoting inclusion for LGBTI older people.
  11. Social inclusion for ethnic minority older people, including asylum seekers and refugees.
  12. Research to be conducted on loneliness and on a continued multi agency effort to tackle it.