In recent years, awareness of the importance of social relations for good health has increased. Unfortunately, numbers tell us that too many are socially isolated.
Extreme social isolation
Social isolation can be defined in many different ways and the number of socially isolated will vary accordingly.
If we define social isolation as both 'living alone' and also 'not having contact with family and friends on a weekly basis', researchers calculate that about 70,000 people in Norway (current population around 5 million) are experiencing this form of 'extreme' social isolation.
Seniors, especially those over the age of 80 years, are experiencing this form of social isolation (Barstad & Sandvik, 2015).
Limited contact with friends
Another form of social isolation can be to have limited contact with friends and family. The figure below demonstrates the proportion of people who are reported to have no good friends or claim to meet their friends less often than once a month. The figure shows that the proportion of people who experience limited contact with friends increases with age.
Around 17 percent of seniors over 66 years of age have no good friends or meet their friends less than once a month.
(A similar proportion of seniors are in touch with friends via telephone, email, and such, less than once a month.) The figure also shows that the proportion of people who experience limited contact with friends has increased between 2002 and 2015, in all age groups (Statistics Norway, 2016).
Figure 1) Without good friends or meeting friends less often than once a month, by age. The population aged 16 years and over. 2015. Percentage.
Without someone to rely on
Having close friends and family members are seen as essential for a person’s social life. The third variant of social isolation can be to “lack someone to rely on.” Interestingly, previous analyses show that not having any, versus having one or two, people to rely on means little for the experience of solitude. However, when persons report having at least three people to rely on, the risk of solitude reduces significantly (Normann 2010, referenced in Barstad, 2015).
Figure 2 demonstrates the proportion of people reporting having two or fewer people to rely on.
The proportion of people who have few people to rely on has decreased between 2002 and 2015. However, in 2015 there were still large proportions of individuals who experienced having few people to rely on.
Over 30 percent of seniors over the age of 66 have two or fewer people to rely on should personal problems arise.
This proportion is particularly startling when, as previously mentioned, research shows that the risk of experiencing solitude is greatly reduced when you have three or more people to rely on.
Figure 2) Two or fewer people to rely on, should personal problems arise. The population aged 16 years and over. 2015. Percentage.
The statistics show that, according to both definitions, a number of people in Norway can be said to experience social isolation. This is worrying, as research shows that social isolation leads to both loneliness and health problems.