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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.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to developing a strategy on tackling social isolation during the lifetime of this parliament is a welcome step in recognising the scale of the problem. We hope that this paper will inform the development of the strategy and spark a much needed debate about how we connect with one another and what support is needed for those at risk of loneliness and social isolation. It’s clear that local and national government can’t act alone. The private, public and third sectors as well as each and every one of us have an important role to play in the prevention of loneliness and the fostering of a better connected society.

New data commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and Age Scotland shows that a quarter of Scottish adults aged 65+ experience depression when they are lonely. This paper, which focuses on loneliness among older people, explores the connection between loneliness and mental health and provides key recommendations to government and society. It is not, however, an exhaustive list of priorities or actions.