Trending: The Loneliness Issue

In this issue: Behold the greatest irony of the 21st century – the rise of loneliness in a world that’s more connected than ever. See how different countries are helping their citizens cope with social isolation.
Woman sitting alone in tunnel

A trend to watch

Loneliness: a global epidemic?

Dying from loneliness is no longer just a metaphor. Research from health insurer Cigna found health risks from loneliness to be comparable to that of obesity and smoking. Loneliness also increases the risks of coronary heart diseases and stroke. Besides the personal toll, there is also an economic cost. The US government spends almost US$7 billion on loneliness-related healthcare expenses per year. Around the world, people have resorted to drastic measures to cope with feeling alone. In Japan, lonely elderly folk turn to committing petty crimes, desperate to be among company in jail. While the elderly have always been the focus in the subject of isolation, a recent study by the UK Office for National Statistics show that young adults are more likely to feel lonely than older age groups. A US study published in 2018, meanwhile, showed that loneliness peaks at three periods in life: the late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s. The researchers say those peaks may match certain life milestones, such as periods of high stress and difficult decisions in the late 20s, declining health and mid-life crises in the mid-50s, and the deaths of spouses and friends in the late 80s.

Global outlook

Loneliness around the world

Woman holding a Morrisey record titled Minister of Loneliness
The UK

After recognising pervasive loneliness as a public health crisis, the UK government in 2017 set up the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to start a national conversation about the topic. In January 2018, the UK became the first country in the world to appoint a Minister for Loneliness. Since then, more than £20 million (S$35 million) has been pumped into charities, community groups and programmes to bring people together.

Animated instagram post on a smartphone screen

Can social media help lonely old folks make new friends? Don’t Forget Me, a series by CNA, paired two popular Instagram photographers with elderly folk to teach the seniors to use Instagram. The aim: to reconnect seniors living alone to the world by sharing their stories on the social networking platform. From having to learn how to use smartphones, the four seniors have since gained hundreds of followers on their Instagram accounts. Watch:

Woman singing karaoke alone

When China’s one-child policy ended in 2015 after 36 years, the damage was already done. More than 150 million young people, dubbed the “loneliest generation”, grew up as an only child. But businesses are now embracing the opportunities with this generation, creating a so-called “loneliness economy”. Across Chinese cities, there are at least 20,000 solo karaoke booths – an industry worth 3.18 billion yuan in 2017, up 93% from the previous year.

Newspaper with a headline that says Fake News
The US

Loneliness is an important factor in the online behaviour of older people, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School and the US Department of Health and Human Services have found. Loneliness affects cognitive functions and mental health, and reduces the ability to self-regulate. Older Americans living in rural and isolated areas tend to be more susceptible to misinformation. Doing more studies into how ageing, social media and society intersect is needed to better understand the issues, says researcher and political scientist Kevin Munger.

Book with the title "Zero Isolation"

Adachi, one of Tokyo’s 23 wards, established the Power of Communities Promotion Division in 2011 to end lonely deaths. One of its pillars, the zero-isolation project, aims to ensure that elderly residents feel safe and do not become socially isolated. The government uses the citizens’ register to identify single-person households of people aged above 70, based on their level of social interactions. Those found to be at risk are regularly visited by volunteer support workers.


Loneliness vs Depression

Table that explains the difference between loneliness and depression

Learn the Lingo

A hand is holding chopsticks ready to eat noodles while the other is holding a smartphone

Empty-nest youth

A term used to describe Chinese people in their early 20s, who live alone in rented homes in China’s big cities.

A man opens a door to find a corpse on a sofa


The Japanese phenomenon of dying alone, where a corpse can go undiscovered for weeks or even months – until neighbours detect the stench of decomposition.

Tennis racquet and a tennis ball in a prescription bottle

Social prescribing

The idea that healthcare professionals refer patients to non-clinical services such as social groups, sports and volunteering as a remedy for social isolation or loneliness.

    Apr 16, 2019
    Wong Wing Lum
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