Medibank-backed report leads to call for action on loneliness

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Call for action and a national plan to address the impact of loneliness following the release of a report developed by the Consumers Health Forum with the support of the Medibank Better Health Foundation.

According to a 2019 survey, 15 per cent of Australians experience high levels of loneliness. The survey has formed the basis of a new report - Loneliness: Thought Leadership Roundtable Report - that has been produced by an expert roundtable established by the Consumers Health Forum (NHF) in partnership with the Medibank Better Health Foundation. 

The report, which calls for a national plan of action to address what is an often unrecognised condition, says there is evidence its negative impact can be chronic and compounding.

“There is currently mixed evidence of what is helpful and unhelpful for easing levels of loneliness for individuals. There remains uncertainty about what is effective for different population groups, particularly for prevention and for addressing not just social isolation but the more complex condition of loneliness,” says the report.

“Both loneliness and social isolation have been found to predict premature mortality, depression, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, and to be associated with higher engagement in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and physical inactivity.”

The report says Australia should follow the UK government, which launched a Loneliness Strategy in 2018, in which it recognised loneliness as “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”.

The report proposes four actions for addressing loneliness in Australia including the creation of a national loneliness index, coordination between government and stakeholders, a national campaign and research.

CHF CEO Leanne Wells said that the report highlights the urgent need for national attention on the epidemic of loneliness in the community.

“It should be a matter of concern requiring urgent action that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey found one in two (50.5%) Australians felt lonely for at least one day in a week, while one in four (27.6%) felt lonely for three or more days.

“The plan of action proposes urgent and practical steps to focus the desperately needed attention on a condition that causes so many people suffering and avoidable illness.

“The solutions to this will come from governments and communities and will work best where the people directly affected have a say,” said Ms Wells.

Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan said loneliness has been an issue for many Australians for a long time.

“Of all the restrictions placed upon us because of COVID-19, social isolation has been one of the hardest to bear for many Australians,” said Dr Swan.

“Throughout the last 12 months, Medibank has been working to adapt and expand our mental health support services to be there for those Australians who have found it more difficult to cope with the impacts of COVID-19, including through our work with the Medibank Better Health Foundation.

“This report by the Consumers Health Forum builds on the existing body of evidence in Australia on loneliness and prompts important discussions on how we can address this together as a nation.”