Loneliness NZ

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Prolonged loneliness in New Zealand before, during, and after lockdown

Media Release: New survey finds high levels of prolonged loneliness after lockdown, especially among youth, solo parents, and the unemployed

Media Release  

Auckland, 1 August 2020 – The number of people experiencing prolonged loneliness – where people self-report feeling lonely most or all of the time – was of concern pre-COVID-19. Since the onset of the global pandemic a question raised is whether the incidence of prolonged loneliness has increased or decreased from pre-pandemic levels during and after lockdown.
This question is addressed in a new report by the Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust. Written by Dr Spencer Scoular, the report compares prolonged loneliness before, during, and after lockdown using the Stats NZ General Social Survey, the Victoria University Lockdown Survey, and the just-released Loneliness NZ Post-Lockdown Survey (administered by Horizon Research).
The report finds the incidence of prolonged loneliness has increased from 3.5% of the New Zealand adult population before lockdown to about 10.6% during lockdown, before slightly falling to 8.7% post-lockdown.
Of particular concern, the incidence of prolonged loneliness for youth increased from 5.8% of youth before lockdown to about 20.8% during lockdown, before slightly falling to a still very high 17.0% post-lockdown.
“It is disheartening,” Scoular reflects, “that, after lockdown, one in six of our youth feel lonely most or all the time.”
To give context, after lockdown, the incidence of prolonged loneliness of youth (17.0%) is 4.4x the incidence of prolonged loneliness of seniors (3.9%) – a demographic that has historically been perceived to be lonely.
And the problem is wider than our youth. Other demographic groups are also struggling with high incidences of prolonged loneliness after lockdown, including solo parents (18.1%), unemployed (16.2%), Asian (13.2%), those with no qualifications (11.8%), those in a household with income of $30,000 or less (11.7%), those not in a family nucleus (11.6%), those with a personal income of $30,000 or less (11.0%), and those with disability (10.9%).

“This problem is far larger than objective social isolation,” Scoular explains. “Loneliness is a subjective emotional state that arises from not having the desired sufficient meaningful connections with others – those people you could rely on in time of need.”
“Conquering prolonged loneliness requires high quality meaningful relationships, rather than a large number of low quality superficial relationships,” says Scoular.
Whilst there remains higher unemployment, lower incomes, border restrictions, and working from home, meaningful connections will be harder to develop and sustain, increasing the risk of people experiencing prolonged loneliness and poor wellbeing.

 The global pandemic will be with us in the foreseeable future. During this time we need to address the needs of those experiencing prolonged loneliness for the benefit of these individuals, their family, whānau, colleagues, and our communities.

Read more:
Click on the hyperlink to download our report Prolonged loneliness in New Zealand before, during, and after lockdown

LOVE Small Talk – avoid feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day and every day!

Loneliness NZ heart logo


L.O.V.E. Small Talk

LOVE Small Talk and avoid feeling lonely on special days (like Valentine’s Day)… and every other day! 

Small talk is an easy way for you to connect with others.

Small talk is the conversation we have with those we have just met, or see seldom.  Done well, your small talk can lighten anyone’s day! So use small talk on any occasion where you can connect with someone around you.

And in the right setting your small talk can set the tone for a deeper conversation

With practice you can LOVE small talk… and you can then feel good about enriching  lives… and preventing loneliness for you and your conversation partner.


The humble beginnings of many friendships and romantic relationships start with small talk. 

And the same goes for many other connections you make through your life work, and in your professional life… your conversations start small, impressions are made, and then we build our connections from there.

So let’s get connected with LOVE … every day with these tips, enabling quality conversation:

  • Leap
  • Open
  • Value
  • Encourage


LEAP at opportunities

Be ready to chat to anyone at any time – in the lift, at the airport, in the supermarket, in your local dairy… in any queue.  Have courage… in nearly all situations it really doesn’t matter if you are the only one speaking.

The trick here is don’t hesitate... talk immediately eye contact is made, or when you are standing right next to each other.  

Also be approachable when someone else has plucked up the courage to talk to you.

OPEN the discussion

Start with anything that can connect the two of you together. Often that’s simply your current shared experience… so your surroundings give you the clues of what you can discuss. Simple observations can carry a conversation a long way.

Using an example as you stand waiting to get off the aeroplane:  “Wow, that was a very bumpy plane ride.”  

The trick here is not to leave that hanging, waiting to see if the person talks back. Follow swiftly with a statement that will …


Adding value in this context is sharing something meaningful about yourself which enables your conversation partner to have the first step in learning something about you; or make a meaningful compliment, which shows your positive side. 

An example which combines both, is “I am usually a very nervous passenger, and so I was thrilled how well the pilot landed the plane.” 

Again, if your chosen conversation partner does not leap in with a comment about themselves, you go straight into a question because that will…


Encourage your conversation partner to participate in the conversation. The ideal way is asking a broad, open question which is directed about them. By inviting them to open up, you are taking your first step in learning about them, and so you are starting to share.   

Like, “What brings you to Christchurch at this time of year?” 

The key her is you do not make assumptions, and be prepared for any answer… because you cannot guess whether they are there for pleasure, business or something stressful like moving a frail mother into care or a funeral. Also avoid a question that relies only on a yes or no answer as your conversation will be stilted… and much harder work.

And keep your L.O.V.E. alive by interchanging between adding Value and asking Encouraging questionsso you are continuing to balance a shared conversation. 

Bear in mind that small talk is often in public settings where you can easily be overheard… so keep the tone right, and be okay if anyone else also joins the conversation.

Ideally we could think of love more broadly… not only being for connecting with romantic partners.

By loving small talk we can form a connection with anyone we would like to foster or strengthen a relationship with.


So get into the right head space and physical space… then 

… LEAP right into making your day …and every day thereafter… more meaningful, with quality connections.

We wish you a

For those who are struggling how to make those meaningful connections, perhaps its time to seek help. Contact us!

Watch the video “How to avoid being lonely on Valentine’s Day” by Rachel Parkin, Reporter for Seven Sharp. The segment aired on 13 February 2020 episode of Seven Sharp. The content features Cathy Comber, for Loneliness NZ, giving some of the Loneliness NZ content in this post, as a Guide to Small Talk.

Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand

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Media Release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided its submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. On May 8, a statement from Loneliness NZ was read to the Inquiry Panel at the  ‘Meet the Panel’ session at Auckland City Hospital, at which time the Panel encouraged Loneliness NZ to let them know what we would do different – that is provide a solution rather than only state a problem.  We have done just that in our Government Inquiry submission: “Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand.” In the submission we:

  • provide evidence showing the relationship between loneliness and mental health and addiction;
  • explain how social change is contributing to the rapid rise of loneliness in New Zealand society;
  • recommend a change in the New Zealand mental health paradigm, so that it is extended to include focusing on loneliness as an early intervention before mental illness and promote social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness;
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on those feeling lonely as an early intervention before mental illness; and
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on promoting social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness.
For further information, please contact us.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Incorporating loneliness and social connection into the Treasury Living Standards Framework

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Media release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided a contribution to the NZ Treasury Living Standards Framework.

By way of background, the Government budget 2019 will be different to all previous budgets.  In addition to considering financial benefit and costs (i.e. Financial Capital), the budget 2019 will be based more broadly around the Living Standards Framework, which takes account of four types of Capital: Physical and Financial Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and Social Capital. 

In February 2018, the Treasuring released four ‘discussion documents’ on the Living Standards Framework (see Further information below). Our response to these discussion papers focused on the Social Capital discussion paper, but also had implications for Human Capital and the Living Standards Framework in general. 

The discussion papers were quite technical in nature, with economics terminology.  To address the issues in the discussion papers, our contribution was equally technical. Our contribution needs to be read in conjunction with the Treasury discussion papers.

General feedback on the Living Standards Framework

The key points raised in our contribution of broader relevance to the Living Standards Framework and Human Capital are as follows:

  • There are four primary social indicators driving wellbeing. We highlight the work of Stats NZ that has shown there are four primary indicators driving wellbeing in New Zealand. We do not believe any of these indicators are currently proposed in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social connection is important to public policy. We highlight twelve important public policy issues that are associated with social connection. As a consequence, we believe social connectedness indicators need to be in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social health is a cause of physical and mental health. We provide extensive references on this causal relationship, which is relevant to the relationship between Human Capital and Social Capital.
Why is this contribution important?
The draft Living Standards Framework, which is a wellbeing framework, does not include any social connectedness indicators, and does not propose to monetise any Social Capital indicators. The result of this draft is that Government policy will be unable to capture the benefits of social connectedness and costs of social disconnectedness (e.g. social isolation of the elderly). Further, the draft Living Standards Framework – if left unchanged – would imply that the Government has little interest in individual social wellbeing.

Feedback on the Social Capital discussion paper

An overview of what is included in our contribution is as follows:

  • Framing of Private Social Capital and Public Social Capital.
  • The consideration of an implicit assumption in the Discussion Paper.
  • The need for social connections indicators within the Living Standards Framework.
  • The reasons social connectedness indicators should be part of Social Capital.
  • A redefinition of Social Capital.
  • The consideration of what social connectedness indicators be within Social Capital, based on a detailed piece of work by Stats NZ.
  • The importance of an indicator around “not feeling lonely”.
  • Response on the three points where Treasury asked for specific feedback, including twelve important examples of the relation between public policy issues and social connection.

A brief overview of our recommendations are:

  1. There needs to be social connectedness indicators in Social Capital.
  2. The definition of Social Capital be redefined to including Public and Private Social Capital [however, Treasury has subsequently explained how individual wellbeing fits into the Framework – without needing to redefine Social Capital to include Private Social Capital].
  3. One of the social connectedness indicators should be not feeling lonely.
  4. The social connectedness indicators should be the primary measures of Social Capital.
  5. Social Capital be monetised [given the proposal at the time that the other three capitals be monetised].
It is important that our final recommendations, listed above, are read in the context of our full contribution (see Further information), which includes many national and international sourced references. 
[How has the Treasury changed its view following this contribution]
Following the submission, the Treasury released for consultation a report by Conal Smith recommending the indicators in the Livings Standards Dashboard. The report did a great job explaining the complete Living Standards Framework which includes, in addition to the Four Capitals, a (current and future) wellbeing function.  The report proposed that the individual wellbeing function contain social connectedness indicators, including a loneliness indicator. Furthermore, it recommended a general health status indicator, which we had also highlighted is a primary driver of wellbeing.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Loneliness is frequently an early warning sign of mental health issues

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Media Release:  Today Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular – representing Loneliness NZ – read out a prepared statement to the panel of the Government inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – at the ‘meet the panel’ session held at Auckland City Hospital.  The statement is shown below.

8 May 2018

Statement – Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction


We represent the recently formed Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust.

We believe that conquering loneliness in New Zealand is critical to mental health.  By conquering loneliness all New Zealanders will have a stronger chance to live well, stay well, and get well.

However loneliness is not well understood in our country – it is a very complex issue. Little is known on the depth and breadth of loneliness, and how to address its root causes. Loneliness and its relationship to mental health is sometimes misunderstood. Until now, New Zealand has not had a national focus on loneliness.

We see that it is important to:

  • Give all New Zealanders a focus on conquering loneliness.
  • Support those already experiencing loneliness in their lives.
  • Upskill people in ways to prevent themselves and others becoming lonely.

Key Facts

We would like to highlight some key facts on Loneliness.

  • The lack of social connectedness is a key contributor to the onset of mental health issues.

Mental health clinicians frequently assume that loss of social connectedness is a consequence of mental illness.  However, recent NZ research shows there is a three times stronger relationship that lack of social connectedness is followed a year later by psychological distress; than psychological distress is followed a year later by lack of social connectedness.

In other words, poor social health is a significant cause of poor mental health. The corollary is that good social health provides a preventative measure for mental health – and – poor social health (e.g. loneliness) provides a point of early intervention before more serious mental health issues develop.

  • Loneliness is widespread in New Zealand.

Statistical data shows  that in the last four weeks more than 650,000 Kiwis are likely to have felt lonely.

  • Loneliness is rising rapidly in New Zealand.

Between 2014 and 2016 the number of Kiwis aged 15+ who felt lonely most or all of the time increased by 98,000 (or 70%).

This helps to explain the spike in demand for mental health services.

  • While we are not minimizing the critical importance of addressing loneliness and social isolation amongst the elderly, loneliness in not simply a senior’s issue.

About 80% of Kiwis aged 15+ who are lonely are under the age of 65.

  • Loneliness is most prevalent in our most vulnerable groups in society.

The highest prevalence (in descending order) are:

disabled, recent immigrants, low income households, unemployed, single parents, rural South Island, seniors aged 75+, adults not in the labour force, and young adults aged 15-24.

Young adults aged 15-24 are the largest lonely age group accounting for almost a quarter (23%) of those who are lonely.

  • We support the Inquiry in building a positive mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders.

Not feeling lonely is statistically one of the four key aspects of wellbeing in New Zealand.

Stats NZ has shown that wellbeing in New Zealand is mostly explained by four social variables:

* enjoying very good general health;

* having at least enough money to meet every day needs;

* having no major problems in the housing where you are living; and

* not feeling lonely in the last four weeks.

Loneliness and Mental Health in New Zealand

  • Loneliness is frequently a common symptom and early warning sign of mental health issues, including depression, paranoia, and suicidal tendencies. The need to address loneliness is an unmet need in New Zealand’s health and response system.
  • By targeting loneliness it is possible to prevent and provide early intervention in mental health issues.
  • Prevention and early treatment of mental health issues avoids more serious and costly treatment and reduces the pressure on specialist services.

Further information

Two of the trustees (Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular) would be happy to elaborate on this statement, including references, if required.