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Eleisha Casanas

New research reveals 87% of people would find it difficult to talk about loneliness. Detailed findings to be presented at an in-person Symposium in Melbourne, 6th June.

Nine in ten Australians have experienced loneliness at some point in their lives, but only 38% have chosen to take action and talk to someone, according to a new Australian-first study by Friends for Good, Nature and Pureprofile. The latest findings are part of a research project which explored the stigma of loneliness and had a nationally representative sample of 1004 Australians. Friends for Good, a national not-for-profit organisation with a vision to free people from loneliness, commissioned this research. Despite the prevalence of loneliness, the study found that not only do 87% of people think loneliness is difficult to talk about, but 53% would also be ashamed or embarrassed to admit to feeling lonely. People also reported being more willing to disclose a diagnosis of a mental illness than experiencing loneliness.

Demographic differences in experiences of loneliness and the stigma of loneliness were also explored. Men were especially likely to view loneliness as a weakness, while Gen X and Boomers were found to be less likely to have told someone about their experience of loneliness compared to their Millennial and Gen Z counterparts. Only 27% of the older generations claimed to have spoken up compared to 48% of those younger.

Services like FriendLine, a free anonymous phone service, are specifically targeted at older demographics and callers often tell volunteers how difficult it is to talk to close friends or family members about their experiences of loneliness.  

The qualitative responses in the research were powerful with people describing how loneliness is viewed and experienced. Respondents described the challenges to open up and talk about loneliness “Sometimes it’s a pride thing” says one respondent “You don’t want people to know you are suffering”. Another said, “People are either afraid of being judged or are too sad to share their loneliness”. Others talked about not having someone to confide in, not wanting to be a burden and not wanting to show weakness or vulnerability.

For those of us working in loneliness or mental health for some time, the news that loneliness is stigmatised is not new, it is something we have heard about and discussed for a number of years.

What this research does is give some robust Australian data to support what we have heard anecdotally and also, importantly, give voice to people’s experiences. It is hoped that this research will spark new conversations about loneliness and also lead to greater attention by funding bodies; investment in loneliness prevention initiatives and public awareness campaigns are vital if we are to see long-term change.

We know that loneliness negatively impacts mental and physical health; it is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The stigma of loneliness presents a significant barrier to people accessing services and even self-identifying as lonely.

As individuals, organisations and the broader community we need to work together to reduce this stigma.  

Friends for Good is hosting a Symposium on June 6th where researchers will be presenting in-depth findings from the report. The Symposium is the third in a series hosted by Friends for Good and the theme for 2023 is “Innovation: Connect; Collaborate; Act”. The aim of the event is to bring people together with an interest in addressing loneliness and will include not only research findings but presentations of practical and innovative solutions to increase social connection. Importantly, the event will offer the chance for networking and meaningful connection between attendees.

If you are experiencing loneliness, FriendLine is available seven days a week (10 am to 8 pm) with volunteers ready for a friendly chat. The number is 1800 4 CHATS (1800 424 287).

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