Loneliness and Social Isolation

News from St John - 7 Oct 2021

What is loneliness and how can St John Qld help?

The current COVID-19 pandemic has bought loneliness to the forefront of many people’s minds. With lockdowns and social distancing requirements many people have reported feeling lonely and socially isolated. However, loneliness is a serious issue that was experienced at epidemic levels in Australia long before 2020.

While there is no agreed definition of loneliness in research, it is generally described as a painful or unpleasant feeling that occurs when there is a gap or mismatch between the number and quality of social relationships and connections that we have, and those that we would like to have. Loneliness can also be broken down further into ‘social’ loneliness and ‘emotional’ or ‘individual loneliness. Social loneliness is when someone is missing their wider social network, for example, a wide group of friends, neighbours and colleagues. Emotional or individual loneliness is when a person feels they are missing an intimate relationship – for example, a partner of close friend. It should be noted that loneliness is distinct from social isolation. Social isolation is described as a lack of social connections. While social isolation can lead to loneliness, a person can still feel lonely without being socially isolated.

Loneliness and social isolation in Australia

In 2018 research found that 1 in 4 Australians aged 12-89 experienced problematic levels of loneliness, however more recent data since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests 1 in 2 Australians are lonely. The estimated prevalence of problematic loneliness at any given time is around 5 million Australians.

What causes loneliness?

Certain age-related social transitions, demographic factors and socio-economic factors impacting on a person’s life are more likely to be associated with loneliness than others. Living alone and not being in a relationship with a partner are both substantial risk factors for loneliness. Other factors include relationship separation, bereavement and widowhood, being a single parent, having a disability, unemployment, low socio-economic status and a disconnect from community.

Health impacts of loneliness

Research has found that loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26%, which is a bigger risk than smoking or obesity. In fact loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Furthermore, loneliness predicts future poorer mental health severity too, including depression, social anxiety, and paranoia and increases the odds of having a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. In fact, those with severe loneliness are 17 times more likely to have made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.

Strategies to address loneliness and social isolation

The most effective way to reduce social isolation is to make people feel connected to their community. Research about interventions currently involve befriending schemes (often delivered by volunteers), one-to-one and group therapies to address relationship difficulties, shared activity programs (e.g. exercise, adult learning etc.) to foster social connection, social prescription by healthcare providers, and various uses of information and communication technology (e.g. social media, videoconferencing, internet training). However, to address loneliness these interventions must facilitate engagement in a meaningful and satisfying manner. It must also be remembered that loneliness is a multifaceted and complex issue, and different solutions are required across different communities and individuals.

In an effort to end the pressing global issue of loneliness and social isolations, the Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection was set up which comprises of national organisations from around the world. Australia is represented by a network of organisations called Ending Loneliness Together, working collaboratively to raise awareness of loneliness, and to build the evidence base and tools to solve loneliness.

How can St John Ambulance Qld help?

Through St John Qld’s Community Care & Support Services, our organisation is well placed to connect with the community and help to reduce loneliness and social isolation. Community transport, the Community Visitors Scheme, community calls, home visits, accompanied outings and social trips– are all designed to keep people connected to their community or improve their social connections. To find out more about these services call St John Ambulance Qld on 1300 785 646 or email enquiries@stjohnqld.com.au.

As I live alone, the interaction I have with my support person is all I have to look forward to each day. I an enjoy a brief chat as if they were my family and I am not made to feel a nuisance about that.” – St John Ambulance Qld Client


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019. Social isolation and loneliness.
Australian Psychological Society, 2018. Australian Loneliness Report.
Campaign to End Loneliness, 2020. The facts on loneliness.
Ending Loneliness Together, 2020. Ending Loneliness Together in Australia.
Holt-Lunstad, J. et al., 2015. Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), pp. 227-237.
Smith BJ, Lim MH, 2020. How the COVID-19 pandemic is focusing attention on loneliness and social isolation. Public Health Res Pract. 2020;30(2):e3022008.