Loneliness Awareness Week begins today, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's new campaign being launched by Loneliness Minister Mims Davies aiming to help tackle the "stigma" of loneliness and encourage people to speak out.
Let’s Talk Loneliness brings together charities, organisations and businesses including the Marmalade Trust, the Co-op Foundation, the British Red Cross, the Campaign to End Loneliness, Mind, Public Health England and the Jo Cox Foundation to help people talk about their feelings.
It comes as a new poll shows that not wanting to burden others is the main barrier to people talking about their feelings of loneliness.
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The new YouGov research also shows in Leeds, where a sample of more than 2,200 people was taken, 51 per cent of respondents reported feeling lonely but 41 per cent of people in the city said going for a walk was an activity they would do to make them feel less lonely.
Just 38 per cent said they would call someone.
The survey also showed that young people across the country aged 18 to 24 are most likely to say they have felt lonely (75 per cent).
In contrast, 63 per cent of people aged 55 and over said they never feel lonely.
Previous research shows nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of people said when they felt lonely, they did not tell anyone despite most having someone they could count on.
Ms Davies said: “Loneliness is one of the biggest health challenges our country faces. It can affect anyone at any time and its impact is in line with smoking or obesity. But we can only begin to help one another if we feel able to understand, recognise and talk about it.
"Let’s Talk Loneliness will encourage us all to engage with this issue, speak up without stigma, spot the signs of loneliness and help build more meaningful connections so people feel less isolated.”
The campaign is part of the government’s Loneliness Strategy.
Adverts for the campaign that show loneliness as an emotion that comes with being human and one people should talk about will be presented on 20 big screens in cities across the country this week.
As part of the awareness week, the government has also announced it is partnering with the Co-op Foundation to match-fund a new £1.6 million scheme that supports activity in community spaces to promote social connections.
The government says it is also investing £1 million in a Tech to Connect Challenge Prize, with applications open from June 26 to August 7.
The prize, which will be designed and delivered by the charity Nesta, aims to find technological solutions to the problem of social isolation.
Charities and social enterprises are urged to apply for up to £500,000.
The £1 million prize will be split into £500,000 of business support from Nesta with the other half being awarded as cash prizes to the best entrants.
Founder of the Marmalade Trust, Amy Perrin, said: “People rarely talk about loneliness, despite it being a very common feeling. When people do talk about loneliness, it’s often in negative terms - something that is ‘suffered from’ or perhaps to say ‘I admit it, I’m lonely’.
“Our wish is to change this habit of loneliness being seen as a negative, weak or hopeless thing. Though it can be an uncomfortable feeling, with the right support it can be temporary and can in fact be framed positively - a blank canvas on which currently lonely individuals can fill their lives with new friends, new conversations and new experiences.
"This awareness and positive support is what Loneliness Awareness Week is all about this year.”
Jim Cooke, head of the Co-op Foundation, said: “Shared spaces for people to meet and socialise are vital for tackling loneliness and helping communities work together to address local challenges. Our match-funding partnership with government will strengthen communities by maximising the potential of spaces where people can connect and co-operate, making an important contribution to Co-op's wider community work.”
Tris Dyson, executive director at Nesta Challenges, said: “Social isolation is a major public health issue affecting people of any background, age or location. This includes people living with long term conditions and limited mobility, and those facing prejudice due to belief, age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity.
“The Tech to Connect Challenge is all about using innovation to tackle social isolation, offering charities, social enterprises and social ventures the funding and expertise to bring their ideas to life. We want to hear from any civil society organisation with a strong idea on how to make a meaningful difference to social isolation.
“We will provide guided support to seven finalists, so that they can develop their concepts into working prototypes. By turning the strongest ideas into reality, we will help tackle one of the major challenges facing our society.”
Zoe Abrams, British Red Cross executive director of communications and advocacy said: “As the British Red Cross, we have been leading the way on helping reconnect people with their communities to overcome loneliness and isolation.
"Our research shows that nearly one in five people feel lonely always or often, so reducing the stigma around loneliness for people of all ages and backgrounds is an imperative. We hope that by encouraging everyone to talk about it, this campaign will help break down barriers to combating loneliness and empower those struggling to reach out for support.”