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Loneliness is Now a Greater Health Risk Than Smoking or Obesity

The rising levels of loneliness now present a greater health risk than obesity and smoking, according to a neuroscientist.

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The rising levels of loneliness now present a greater health risk than obesity and smoking, according to a neuroscientist.

Social prescribing is when a social worker refers those struggling with mental health crises, such as the feeling of loneliness, to non-clinical services to cope through different activities like dance clubs, art sessions, or exercise classes. The Welsh government has included it in its list of priorities for the next five years.

Alice Gray, a science communicator and producer from Cardiff told BBC News that she struggled immensely with loneliness throughout the lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Loneliness,” she said, “is a widespread problem, even prior to pandemic. It’s not only incredibly isolating, but it’s very stigmatized and often associated with the older generation—despite more young people struggling with loneliness.”

With levels of loneliness have been greatly exacerbated due to lockdown, social prescribing has become more necessary.

Credit: pxfuel

“I think having access to a service like [social prescribing] could have impacts on the mental and physical health of people on a personal level, as well as on a broader level,” Gray said.

According to the Royal College of General Practitioners Wales (RCGP Wales), “loneliness puts people at a 50% increased risk of an early death.”

Nick from Ystradgynlais, Powys, experienced the benefits of social prescribing after his time in lockdown.

He said:

“Addressing [loneliness] takes a little extra time and support, so social prescribing helps you find lots of different activities and support in your local community that can help you turn things around. I was referred to a number of different activities that have helped me.”

RCGP Wales has called for practices to have their own social prescriber, so GPs’ workload can remain manageable, and so they can focus on patients that need medical care.

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