Of the danger of being alone

Fewer friends you can count on, fewer in-person interactions, fewer meaningful encounters. Isolation and loneliness must be considered epidemics to be vigorously combated, public health experts warn.

The risks of loneliness


  • Cardiovascular illnesses
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Depression and anxiety

“Feeling lonely is more than just a negative feeling – it affects the health of both individuals and society. » In May 2023, United States Public Health Officer Vivek H. Murthy recalled that “social disconnection” has an impact “similar to those caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” In fact, the lack of social connections would be more risky for health than drinking more than six drinks of alcohol per day, avoiding physical activity or suffering from obesity.

Alone in the world

Proportion of respondents who reported feeling “alone” in 2020-2021

  • Brazil: 50%
  • Türkiye: 46%
  • India: 43%
  • Saudi Arabia: 43%
  • Italy: 41%
  • South Africa: 40%
  • South Korea: 38%
  • Chile: 39%
  • France: 36%
  • Canada: 31%
  • Spain: 27%
  • Sweden: 25%
  • Netherlands: 16%

Source: Ipsos survey, December 2020-January 2021

In 2021, in the midst of a pandemic, an Ipsos poll conducted in 28 countries revealed that the feeling of loneliness was not felt only in rich Western countries. Brazil, Turkey and India – among the most populous countries in the world – shared the top three spots. Canada ranked just below the group average (33%), and the Dutch were the least likely (15%) to report feeling lonely.

Young and alone

Proportion of Quebec adults who felt isolated from others during the month of November 2023

  • 18-24 years old: 48.9%
  • 25-44 years old: 36.3%
  • 45-59 years old: 25.2%
  • 60-69 years: 16.2%
  • 70 years and over: 18.9%

Source: National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, December 2023

The feeling of loneliness is present among the elderly. But surprisingly, they are not the ones who say they suffer the most from loneliness. Between May and December 2023, nearly half of Quebecers aged 18 to 24 said they had experienced a feeling of loneliness in the last month, compared to less than 20% among those aged 60 and over. This paradox is not new: already, in a review of scientific literature dating from 1990, a team from the Sacré-Cœur hospital in Montreal noted a “significant percentage” of young people more vulnerable to the development of feelings of loneliness, notably due to the torments of adolescence and entry into adult life.

Alone despite his “friends”

Time spent alone

  • 2003: 285 minutes per day
  • 2019: 309 minutes per day

Time spent with other members of the household

  • 2003: 262 minutes per day
  • 2019: 243 minutes per day

Time spent with friends in person

  • 2003: 54 minutes per day
  • 2019: 43 minutes per day

Source: data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (American Time Use Survey)

There are “virtual friends” and “real friends”. The more time we spend on social media platforms, the more lonely we feel. This is the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 by surveying nearly 2,000 Americans aged 19 to 32. Those who spent more than two hours per day using Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and others were twice as likely to feel lonely, compared to those who spent no more than 30 minutes per day. day.

Steps to combat loneliness

Some initiatives adopted in recent years by States to tackle the problem

United Kingdom

Since 2018, the British government has had a “Minister for Loneliness” and treats this issue as a priority. Last September, a campaign was launched to combat feelings of loneliness among students. Those among whom this feeling is strongest “are about twice as likely to consider dropping out of school,” noted Robin Hewings, the campaign director.

Geneva, Switzerland)

In November 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a Commission on Social Connection “to address loneliness as an urgent health threat.”

new York

In response to the National Public Health Officer’s appeal in May 2023, New York State asked Ruth Westheimer, a sexologist, author and broadcaster known as Dr. Ruth, to act as an “honorary ambassador of loneliness”. The 95-year-old speaker is the first in the country to inherit this title.


Faced with the worrying increase in feelings of loneliness in the country, the Japanese government has adopted a series of measures in 2021-2022, including campaigns on suicide prevention and the launch of a telephone line for people suffering from isolation.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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