In Summary

  • Professor Holt-Lunstad discussed the health risks associated with being lonely
  • Loneliness described as being on par with other health issues such as smoking and obesity
  • There is a need for guidelines to prevent the increasing epidemic of loneliness

International loneliness expert Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad offered solutions to the complex health issue in a public lecture presented by Swinburne and Australian Red Cross.

Delivered at the Hawthorn Arts Centre to an audience of hundreds, the Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University talked about the long-term health effects of social connection in a lecture titled ‘Loneliness: a 21st century challenge.’

Professor Holt-Lunstad put the health risks of loneliness into context by sharing the findings of multiple studies conducted on the issue.

According to the research, loneliness and living alone are on par with a number of other widely acknowledged health issues.

“Lacking social connections carries a similar risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even exceeds the risk of inactivity and obesity,” said Professor Holt-Lunstad.

Professor Holt-Lunstad said this evidence cannot be ignored.

“We address the epidemic of obesity by providing people with guidelines around nutrition and activity levels, yet no such guidelines exist for how to combat loneliness, which is proven to be equally as detrimental to our health.”

Defining loneliness

Professor Holt-Lunstad explained that loneliness is a subjective feeling, but one that does not discriminate, with 60 per cent of Australian’s reporting feeling lonely often.

“Loneliness occurs when a person feels a discrepancy between their desired level of connection and actual level of connection,” said Professor Holt-Lunstad.

“The quality of our connections are also important. Our relationships can help us cope with stress, but can also be sources of stress if the relationship is unhealthy.”

Introducing Professor Holt-Lunstad, Swinburne Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson AO said the lecture was another important milestone in Swinburne’s efforts to understand and address loneliness in Australia.

“Under the leadership of Professor Gavin Lambert in his role as director of the Iverson Health Innovation Institute, alongside working in partnership with industry, Swinburne is striving to make a difference in the lives of those experiencing loneliness,” says Professor Kristjanson.

An international expert

Professor Holt-Lunstad is a research leader in the area of the long-term health effects of social connection.

Her work has been seminal in the recognition of social isolation and loneliness as a risk factor for early mortality.

Dr Holt-Lunstad has provided expert recommendations for the US Surgeon General’s Emotional Well-Being in America Initiative, and serves as a Scientific Advisor for the ACEL, the Foundation for Art & Healing, and is on the research advisory panel for AARP Services, Inc. and United Healthcare.

You can support loneliness research by making a donation through Swinburne’s Giving program.