The prevalence of social isolation in Europe

7,2 percent. This is the share of the European population who said that they never meet friends or relatives, not even once a year.

Humans are not meant to be, or to feel, alone. A recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%. Loneliness and isolation have been linked to stress, depression, and suicidal behavior.

Unfortunately, social isolation is prevalent. This year a poll found that half a million people over 60 spend each day alone with no social interaction in the UK, and in two thirds of European countries, over 1 in 10 persons aged 65 or more have no friends or never meet them. Not only seniors are at risk: social isolation can affect people of all ages with long-term illness, disability, economic struggles, and depression.

7 percent never meet friends

Loneliness and social isolation is a public health issue which can affect people of all ages. It can be hard to measure how many people suffer. Some are concerned that there is a stigma attached to loneliness, for example. In 2006, 7.2% of Europeans were socially isolated – this is the share of the population who said that they never meet friends or relatives, not even once a year. This figure is regarded as an extreme degree of isolation.

Older people are particularly vulnerable due to loss of friends and family, mobility, poor health or income. Living alone can also lead to loneliness. According to EU statistics on income and living conditions, 13.4% of households in the EU-28 in 2013 were composed of a single person aged 65 or over. In addition, a recent survey found that almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely. A 2017 poll by Age UK found that half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, with no social interaction, while half a million more do not typically see or speak to anyone for six days a week.

Young people are also lonely

Young people are also affected – and isolated children are at risk of poor adult health. A 2010 report by the Mental Health Foundation found that the 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely than the over-55s to feel lonely often and to feel depressed because of loneliness. Further, while some turn to online social networking for solace, research suggests that young people’s use of social media may be contributing to their social isolation. Ethan Kross, a social psychologist from the University of Michigan, finds that social media use can increase, rather than alleviate, loneliness in young adults:

“Rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive ‘offline’ social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults—it may undermine it.”

Social isolation and loneliness are a key public health issue. We need to find ways to tackle isolation by fostering social connection and breaking down the barriers that hinder social contact.