One in five people in Ireland experience loneliness, according to a new survey.
The survey was conducted in November and December 2022 and included more than 25,000 respondents aged 16 and older from all 27 European Union (EU) countries. Overall, 13% of respondents said they felt lonely most or all of the time over the past four weeks, whereas 35% reported experiencing loneliness at least some of the time.
Loneliness was found to be most prevalent in Ireland, where more than 20% of respondents reported feeling lonely, followed by Luxemburg, Bulgaria, and Greece. The lowest levels of loneliness were observed in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Austria, with less than 10% of respondents reporting feeling lonely.
The prevalence of loneliness decreases with older age, as well as increased income and education. People going through major life events, such as separation, job loss, or finishing studies, experience loneliness more often.
The survey defines emotional loneliness as the feeling of a lack of a meaningful relationship with a significant other or a close friend. Social loneliness refers to the experience of an insufficient broader social network, including friends, neighbors, or colleagues.
The problem of loneliness is not limited to the EU. According to a recent survey, 17% of American adults reported feeling loneliness "a lot of the day yesterday." The levels of loneliness are the highest among young adults under the age of 30 (24%) and those in lower-income households earning less than $24,000 per year (27%).
While loneliness may have detrimental effects on mental health, such as increasing the risk of depression and anxiety, it can also harm physical health. Studies suggest that loneliness can put people at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and stroke and increase the risk of premature death by 26%. Such mortality impact equals smoking up to 15 cigarettes or consuming six alcoholic drinks a day and is even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity
Vivek Murthy, an American physician and the United States Surgeon General, declared a loneliness epidemic in May.
In his recent advisory, Murthy says: "We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It's like hunger or thirst. It's a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing."