UK prime minister Theresa May has backed a new loneliness strategy, the government's first, which will encourage GPs to prescribe social activities – such as walking clubs and art and cookery classes – in place of medication to combat loneliness.
Expected to be in place by 2023, the new strategy has been described by May as a "vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness".
She argued that social prescribing would reduce strain on NHS resources, as well as improve patients' quality of life.
Bringing together health services, councils, businesses, community groups and charities, the strategy aims to help people connect with their communities in order to lead healthier and happier lives.
In her speech launching the initiative May praised the late Jo Cox, a Labour MP who was a prolific anti-loneliness campaigner before her death in 2016.
"Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice, which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental wellbeing as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time", May said.
Additionally, May has announced that £1.8m will be invested in community projects like community gardens, cafes and art projects to support the scheme.
Tracey Crouch, minister for Loneliness, said: "Loneliness is a serious issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds and it is right that we tackle it head on. Our strategy sets out a powerful vision for addressing this generational challenge."
Speaking to The Guardian
on behalf of the Jo Cox Foundation, Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater said: "The work on loneliness has been a hugely important part of Jo's legacy. It is excellent to see that loneliness is now firmly on the government's agenda."
This is not the first time the severity of the issue has been recognised, with new research, carried out by BBC 4's All in the Mind
and the Wellcome Trust, suggesting that young people in the 16 - 24 age bracket experienced loneliness more keenly than other age groups
. While UK charity AgeUK stated that it was a major public health concern, and estimated that by 2025-26 over two million people over the age of 50 will experience intense feelings of loneliness and isolation.Spa Business
reported on the impact of loneliness and how spas can position themselves to help address the problem in its Q2 issue