Smallpox. Cholera. The plague.
Infectious diseases as the above automatically spring to mind when we think of epidemics.
What doesn’t automatically spring to mind is loneliness. Or social isolation. However that is exactly how loneliness and social isolation is being heralded – as a 21st century epidemic.
While not physically contagious as your typical epidemic of the Middle Ages, loneliness and social isolation have shown to have a greater negative effect on our health than smoking, alcohol or even obesity. In fact, experiencing loneliness has similar adverse effects on our body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
In the UK alone, it has been reported that almost three-quarters of older people are lonely. That’s one of the reasons that governments are starting to take action, with the British government recently appointing a Minister for Loneliness to try and combat this.
The silent destroyer of men
In 2016, the Movember Foundation in the UK conducted research to discover the impact of loneliness on men’s health. What they discovered was troubling.
Male friendships tend to drift away as men grow older. For men over 55 years old, 19% reported to not have a close friend to confide in. This means they don’t have anyone to speak with about serious topics as work, health or familial issues. This compares to 7% of men under 24 years old.
One in ten men couldn’t recall the last time they made contact with their friends, and even more worrying, 11% of single men and 15% of married men said they did not have a friend to turn to.
Why does this even matter?
For men specifically, loneliness and social isolation have been identified as risk factors for suicide, depression and anxiety. In Australia, 1 in 2 men have had a mental health problem at some point in their lives. 75% of suicides are men.
There will always be moments that threaten a man’s mental health – losing a job, losing a loved one, becoming a father, and stress at work. So forming meaningful friendships and talking about concerns is imperative, for our friendships and relationships are crucial at keeping loneliness and social isolation at bay. This is supported by research, encouraged by the World Health Organisation.
However this is easier said than done. Society has for so long discouraged men to be vulnerable and emotionally open, labelling that as a sign of weakness.
Our culture of stoicism is so ingrained that some men still find it difficult to open up and talk about issues. In fact, 70% of men don’t reach out because they believe that problems are a part of life and something they have to shoulder themselves (Movember Foundation 2014 poll).
With Movember almost upon us once again, it’s important to reach out to the men in our lives – the stoic ones, the reserved one, the shy ones, the confident ones, the macho ones.
They could be experiencing loneliness or social isolation and we wouldn’t even know it. It’s time to shine a light on the issue and remove the stigma attached to mental health, especially with men.
Life doesn’t have to be like this
At Stitch, we believe that life doesn’t have to be like this. Loneliness and social isolation are not life-long debilitating conditions that you can’t break free from.
For men over 50 years old, we offer them a supportive (and fun!) community where they can make new friends, attends activities and events, participate in group travel and chat with global Stitch members in online forums.
With an increasing amount of research revealing how important our friendships and relationships are, simple actions such as engaging with your local community can do wonders for preventing loneliness and social isolation.
However don’t take our word for it. Our passionate and growing community of members tell us regularly how Stitch has changed their life – they rave about the new friends they’ve made, about the meaningful relationships they’ve formed. Some have gone as far as saying they were close to suicide before they found Stitch.
Hearing these comments from members, we’re incredibly proud of the work we do, and hope to extend this good work to more local communities around the world.
Learn more about the benefits of joining Stitch here.