Isolation Isn't Just A 'Senior' Issue - How Big Changes Cause Isolation Across Generations

Karen Dolva
When speaking publicly on the epidemic of loneliness, I often open with the same line.

When speaking publicly on the epidemic of loneliness, I often open with the same line. Not to shock, not to seek pity, but to inform. My story is true: if I had died aged 22, it would have taken weeks for anyone to find me. At 22, I was studying, I was alone, and I had pulled myself away from everyone. I was lonely.

It seems shocking, doesn't it? To think that someone in their early twenties would be so distanced from their peers, and so cut off from those around them. In actuality, when it comes to chronic loneliness, millennials and young adults are the second highest risk group, after seniors.

This week, UK media widely reported on research from Action for Children, which found that parenthood leaves half of mothers and fathers feeling lonely. Coverage has been extensive, with many questioning how to help these young parents. For me, this comes as no surprise.

Big changes in our lives make us particularly vulnerable. In our late teens and early 20's familiar situations begin to change, whether that be because we have moved to a new city to study or to work, or because we have started to have children. It is not a shock that 68 per cent of parents surveyed by Action for Children said they felt they had become cut off from friends and family since having children. It is the sad reality.

Recently, The Red Cross found that life transitions, and particularly role transitions, are the kinds of disruptive moments that increase the risk of loneliness amongst individuals of any age. It is easy for us to apply these findings to senior groups, who face retirement or the loss of a loved one; it is harder, though, to comprehend how transitions that we see as 'positive' - such as the birth of a child or the start of a career, can trigger loneliness.

The Red Cross also found that, regardless of where you are in your life, if you are facing a transition that affects your social connections or social identities, you are at risk of feeling isolated. This is worrying. Think of the many, many changes we face in a lifetime - university, finding a partner, losing a partner, changing jobs, birth, marriage, retirement, bereavement. Laid bare, the reality is that we are all at risk of feeling socially isolated at one stage or another.

I don't have the answer to solving the growing epidemic that is loneliness, but I do know that loneliness is not just a sad feeling, it is dangerous. We are making progress when it comes to better understanding senior loneliness. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly aware that, in a digital age, many are getting lost, and more lonely. We have also realised that the number of lonely young people are severely underreported, and their situation under researched.

Speaking openly is only the first step, but it is an important one. It opens the floor up to discussion, and invites others to contribute solutions to this growing problem. For me, loneliness was enough to make me quit my job and start No Isolation. I had no idea how big the issue really was, and I am still learning. If others are inspired to learn too, then perhaps we will find the answers we so desperately need.