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Loneliness is frequently an early warning sign of mental health issues

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

Background

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.