Australia has started off the new year with a month of devastating bushfires, golf ball sized hail storms, muddy rain, dust storms and the coronavirus.
As we enter the new decade we are now facing a new global health epidemic posing a greater risk for premature death than smoking or obesity and that is loneliness and social isolation.

Loneliness is the feeling of distress people experience when their social relations are not the way they would like. It is a personal feeling of social isolation.

Recently the Australian Psychological Society together with Swinburne University produced the Australian Loneliness Report. The research shows that one in four adult Australians are experiencing loneliness.

Furthermore 51%, meaning over half the nation, reported they feel lonely for at least 1 day each week (Australian Psychological Society 2018). (2)

Research shows that the risk of premature death associated with social isolation and loneliness is similar to the risk of premature death associated with well-known risk factors such as obesity, based on a meta-analysis of research in Europe, North American, Asia and Australia (Holt-Lunstad et al. 2015). (3)

Social isolation has also been linked to mental illness, emotional distress, suicide, the development of dementia, premature death, poor health behaviours, smoking, physical inactivity, poor sleep, and biological effects, including high blood pressure and poorer immune function (Hawthorne 2006; Holt-Lunstad et al. 2015).

Social relationships support good mental and physical health.  For the sake of maintaining good mental and physical health it’s important to foster positive sustainable connections with the people we encounter and the people in our lives, our relatives, friends, neighbours and our community.

There are several social habits recommended to reduce the likelihood and prevalence of loneliness.  Not surprisingly many of these are directly reflective of the teachings of Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed (s):

  1. Thinking positively of people and situations – instead of worrying about how the social interaction will pan out ahead of time, or worrying about how you are perceived and creating a multitude of potential negative scenarios, its better to shift the focus to the topic of conversation and think positively of the people we are connecting with.
  2. Don’t compare what others have and don’t have with what you have or don’t have.  Instead focus on the quality of your relationship with the person, savour the moment and be present.  Be grateful for your unique set of circumstances which is likely the dream of someone far less fortunate than you.
  3. Listen well – The Prophet (s) taught the Sunnah of active listening where he would face the person speaking to him with his whole body.  Respond kindly and without judgement towards other’s experiences.
  4. Go offline – perhaps more research is necessary to highlight the correlation between social media and the social isolation and loneliness epidemic.  In any case it’s important to be present with the person we’re conversing with so put away devices, out of site.
  5. Reach Out & Reconnect – either with family you haven’t had a chance to see in a while or with childhood friends. Maintaining regular contact with family is Sunnah.
  6. Help others – serving others or khidmah is also Sunnah. Create a bond with someone by offering help. Volunteer for a local cause or offer small acts of kindness like holding open a door or asking someone about their day with a smile.

Source: Relationships Australia 2018

Governments play an important role in developing infrastructure, community spaces and projects that encourage greater social interaction however it’s important for individuals to be aware of this growing epidemic. This year look for opportunities to connect with the people in your community and reconnect with family and friends.

References;
1. Australian Loneliness Report
https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://psychweek.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Psychology-Week-2018-Australian-Loneliness-Report.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjZxMOIlqHnAhUSVH0KHZJKCsAQFjAFegQIDxAJ&usg=AOvVaw1xip2S-Q1FLMOZTXWSAYiJ

2.https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/letter/articles/vh-letter-47-loneliness

3. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/social-isolation-and-loneliness

4.  Lonely Souls image from The Courier Mail – https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/loneliness-is-australias-new-public-health-crisis/news-story/53e7ed9aae29c7640e503480772f036a