Three out of ten Australians experienced a period of loneliness between 2001 and 2009.
All the lonely people: Loneliness in Australia, 2001-2009 is a recently released report authored by The Australia Institute’s Research Director, David Baker. This research in turn relied in large part on data from the government-funded study, Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA). Loneliness, as defined by the study, is the mismatch between the relationships we wish we had and our current (perceived) reality.
As loneliness relates to our emotional connections, it is not surprising that—beyond the poverty line—money doesn’t play a big part in whether people are lonely or not. A simple message from the report is that it is a normal part of life to experience a period of loneliness. Three out of ten Australians experienced a period of loneliness between 2001 and 2009 and the research suggests more Australians are experiencing loneliness now than a decade ago.
It also appears that the longer the spell of loneliness lasts, the less likely you are to come out of it. Couples with children are more likely to be lonely than couples without although, not surprisingly, single parents and single people are the most vulnerable, with young women on a low income the worst affected.
More men than women are affected, with 36 per cent of men experiencing loneliness from 2001 to 2009 compared to 29 per cent of women. The use and impact of social media is also raised in the report.
The incidence of loneliness is likely to be even higher than the report suggests as, remarkably, participants had to score negatively for all ten questions in order to be categorised as lonely.
Read the All the lonely people: Loneliness in Australia, 2001-2009 report.
A quick glance at the ten questions used in the Australia Institute’s survey on loneliness tells us one chilling thing. If you answer yes to all ten questions, you would not just be lonely, you would probably also be clinically depressed. So those who answered yes to four or six of the ten questions have a high chance of being very lonely indeed.
It is fair to recognise that loneliness is a normal part of life and we can all expect to experience a period of time when this happens. But how to know when loneliness is not just a passing phase, but a more severe form of unhappiness; one which can take a grip and become self-fulfilling? This is where we hope our friends and family will step up and help us understand that we have moved into a darker space and we may need to seek external help to break this cycle. But the condition of loneliness often means we do not have quality relationships and therefore people who will talk to us about our moods and their management.
Being lonely also means we become defensive with others and will not listen to their well-intentioned attempts to support us. The fact that women suffer less than men comes as no surprise, given the evidence of women maintaining social networks more vigorously than their male counterparts. So what does this mean for older Australians? As the number of single person households continues to balloon, it is likely that many of us may spend twenty or more years on our own at the latter end of our lives.
Having a strong social network is the best antidote to feeling isolated and unhappy. And the best time to create a strong social network is today. How to start? There are many ways, but most of them are far simpler than we suspect. If you feel you are at risk of being consumed by loneliness why not take a stroll down to you local library and read the noticeboard? There will be a myriad of opportunities to meet, work with and help many strangers who are the friends with whom you will soon be acquainted.
Are you lonely? Is loneliness a government issue or a personal problem?
Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free
- Receive our daily enewsletter
- Enter competitions
- Comment on articles