We need a Minister for Loneliness

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The health impacts are similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day - so why isn’t the government talking about loneliness? 'Friends for Good' wants the Federal Government to lead the change.

Video above: This Australian health crisis is taking lives. So why aren't we talking about it?

Loneliness is hard to listen to. It's painful.

Most of the time callers to Friend Line know what the steps are to overcome loneliness, but can't take them.

When we talk to them about doing activities, they often don't have the money to attend.

Social anxiety stops some people from making friends, and complex physical and mental health problems are barriers for others.

When people call our free service we talk about a lot of things - our day, our ideas and even that it's great that we have survived. Sometimes we have a laugh, a joke or share stories about our childhoods.

John is 92 and a regular caller to Friend Line.

He describes himself as the grandfather and father that everyone has forgotten about.

He has family who live on the other side of town or interstate and rarely visit.

He says it is hard to have conversations with other older folk as many have passed away or do not have their faculties about them.

John is aware of other services in the community but says that they are overwhelmed by the number of seniors needing social connection so he can only occasionally go on social outings.

He has such an interesting life so chatting is easy.

Currently, over 80 per cent of callers to Friend Line are male and aged between 55 and 65 years. They come from all walks of life - academics, nurses, students, retirees and tradies.

Many regular callers are chronically lonely and it's a very real health risk.

Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent – similar to the effect of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

We all know the dangers of cigarette smoking, but where is the conversation on loneliness and the damage it is doing to individuals and communities in Australia?

Friends for Good is calling on the Federal Government to provide leadership and devise a strategy to take us forward.

It could well be that this involves the appointment of a Federal Minister for loneliness like in the UK, where more than 200,000 older people haven't had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

To our knowledge, here at Friends for Good there has been no opportunity for concerted debate at the national level and the forthcoming development of policy.

Loneliness is a hidden suffering of our modern age. There is evidence all around us that loneliness exists. We can't ignore the warning signs any more.

We need to take action; it's time we talked about loneliness.

Friend Line callers deeply value having someone to talk to, who will share a story, and lend a genuine ear.

But Friend Line is just one part of a wider response that’s needed to fight loneliness.

Patricia Lauria is the C.E.O and Co-founder of Friends for Good Inc. 

Laura Rouhan is the General Manager and Co-founder of Friends for Good Inc.

Watch Insight's episode on Overcoming Loneliness