Together alone, the rise of loneliness



Lonely Hearts. It is a film starring John Travolta from the early noughties. It is also a key sentiment of a beloved Beatles’ album. From pop to pandemic, the word ‘lonely’ is synonymous with a lockdown. 


As we were still adapting to a new world order, experts forewarn a loneliness epidemic that will emerge, or arguably accelerate, from the pandemic. We start to notice the acute loneliness in close range. From an only child at home, to an ageing widow living on her own, to a singleton hoping to meet The One, to an eager employee starting a new job…but WFH. The impact is felt across the generations with 1 in 5 millennials  have no friends at all. A 2020 US survey found that 71% of millennials and almost 79% of Gen Z report feeling lonely – a significantly greater proportion than other generations. It is a social recession made up of countless human stories.


There is a measurable cost to loneliness. Evidence points to links between loneliness and depression, coronary heart disease, and stroke. A study by LSE has shown the estimated cost over a 10-yr period could be in excess of £1,700 per person, and the cost for older people who are most severely lonely would be in excess of £6,000. Lest we associate loneliness with old people, 9 out of 10 Britons aged from 18 to 24 said they experience loneliness to some degree prior to the pandemic. It’s an issue in the US too, with more than 3 in 5 Americans reporting to be lonely, and more and more people feeling like they are left out, poorly understood and lacking companionship.


The cost to UK employers from loneliness & wellbeing is staggering at £2.5 billion per year. A study by the Co-op takes a comprehensive view of the business impact based on associated sickness absence taken by employees, employees’ wellbeing as caregivers, reduction in productivity as well as an increase in voluntary staff turnover due to a sense of isolation. In the book The Lonely Century, we learned that 40% of employees are lonely.


In our proprietary social listening tool, mental health and loneliness are becoming more connected in the eyes of consumers. Mentions of loneliness, anxiety and depression have all been steadily increasing and anxiety and depression are two of the most common topics appearing alongside mentions of loneliness, over 20% annual growth. (Greenscope AI).


Loneliness is also driving an economy of new services (RentAFriend, anyone?), inventions like Pepper the humanoid robot to improve the mental health of residents in care homes, and the democratization of healthcare like BetterHelp, an online counselling platform with 24/7 access to a licensed therapist through a mobile phone or computer. These innovations are rooted in a social cause and solves intergenerational human needs. We believe that sustainability-led ideas are built to last. 


Mental health was a societal issue before and during the pandemic, and will endure even as the world is slowly turning a corner with mass vaccinations. Whilst governments and organisations develop global solutions with science, tech and new partnerships, we can unleash our daily potential to make someone smile. Send a GIF during a tedious Zoom call. Call your mum twice this week. Tip your cashier at the supermarket. Leave chocolates at your neighbour’s door. Nothing replaces a human connection, and the heart knows it.