Loneliness: All the way from England to Burlingame

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At the end of last year, Britain’s Commission on Loneliness released the statistics found in a year-long survey. The study was published after the murder of Jo Cox, a British Labour Party politician who tried to improve issues of social isolation and loneliness. After her death, her work was continued by the newly established commission in her name. The study reports that over 9 million adults, 14 percent of the population, experience constant loneliness.

 Tracey Crouch, Britain

Tracey Crouch, Britain’s Minister of Loneliness

 In response to unsettling results, on Jan. 17, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new position in government: Minister of Loneliness.The job now belongs to Tracey Crouch, who also serves as the minister of Sport and Civil Society. Crouch’s purpose, the UK’s government stated, is to “identify opportunities to tackle loneliness, and build more integrated and resilient communities.” Among other ideas to do so, she hopes to create “pocket parks” where empty areas outdoors can be transformed into parks in which lonely people, especially the elderly, can gather and socialize.  

Many people praised Crouch’s new role as an important step in addressing social isolation.With new reports on its shocking health effects, more people are beginning to worry about the issue. Even more, in compiling hundreds of studies on the topic, researchers found that lonely people have a 50% increased risk of death. 

Emily Tam, a senior in Burlingame’s Bring Change 2 Mind club, commented on the significance of Britain’s actions.

“It shows that the country is making an effort to take care of the wellbeing of citizens,” Tam said. “It’s really important.”

However, the step to create a “Minister of Loneliness” has also received backlash. Soon after it was announced, Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Night Show, told his audience one night, “They’ve defined the most ineffable human problem and come up with the coldest, bureaucratic solution.” While its purpose was to be humorous, Colbert’s criticism represents a broader opinion that appointing a Minister of Loneliness is an ineffective, and even comical, approach. 

Left-leaning British politicians have voiced concerns as well, claiming that the new focus on social isolation is hypocritical. In critics’ opinions, May’s government is suddenly interested in aiding loneliness after significant decreases in funds for social-services under her administration. Furthermore, around 500 libraries have been shut down due to budget cuts under May and the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron. Some worry that such actions negatively impact loneliness in a way for which a Minister of Loneliness cannot compensate.

Regardless, loneliness appears to be a major issue, even in our community.

“We have a lot of kids that feel like they have acquaintances but not true friendships,” counselor Tammy Esrailian said.  

However, students on campus are taking action to try to tackle social isolation. 

On May 19, Burlingame’s Bring Change 2 Mind club is hosting “Boundless,” a district-wide event to connect and bring people together. The event, previously known as kNOw Limits, focuses around the concept of “big talk”, the deeper, more important alternative to “small talk.”