Make loneliness public health priority, say MSPs

28 Oct 15

Loneliness should rank equally with poverty and poor housing in determining public health priorities, according to a Scottish Parliament report published today, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

The report, commissioned by Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee, says that social isolation – especially but not only among the elderly – can have direct impacts on mental and physical health that are every bit as serious as the more familiar economic forms of deprivation.

It calls for a national social isolation strategy, which would include the promotion of public health campaigns to raise awareness and tackle the stigma that typically attaches to loneliness.

“The report highlights how difficult it is to admit to loneliness,” committee convener Margaret McCulloch said. 

“Whatever your age, it is unacceptable to feel you cannot seek help.

“The health impact in Scotland is too great. But currently a lack of awareness of the impact of isolation allows it to be ignored."

McCulloch’s committee heard evidence from a series of campaign groups directly linking social isolation to conditions like malnutrition and dementia.

Among the episodes related to the committee were the case of a woman who visited her GP weekly just for someone to talk to, and an elderly man who used his free bus pass to travel round and round Glasgow all day because he had nothing better to do.

The problem is most common among older people, whose physical health can leave them housebound. But the MSPs also heard of examples among young people, who can be intimidated by bullying, or else become so dependent on social media that they forget how to forge real friendships with people their own age.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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