Tag Archives: life

Through my cancer, I have found the key to a good life | George Monbiot

If I could turn back the clock, magically deleting my prostate cancer, the surgery I needed and its complications, would I do so? It seems an odd question. But I find it surprisingly hard to answer.

It wasn’t a lot of fun. I stopped breathing in the recovery room, which felt as if I were drowning. I hated being catheterised. The painkillers I took locked up my bowels, forcing me to excavate them by hand, as straining could have torn the delicate stitching above them. I succumbed to a post-operative infection that kept me awake for seven nights. Just as the infection passed, the muscles around the operation site went into spasm, causing such pain that I found myself curled up on the floor, nails hooked into the carpet. After three days of this, I was rushed to hospital unable to pee, as everything had clamped shut. Having another catheter inserted, three weeks after the first one had been removed, felt like a miserable regression.

But I feel I have learned more about myself and the world around me over the past two months than over the preceding 20 years. The first revelation was the astonishing power of human kindness. The team that treated me, at the Churchill hospital in Oxford, made me feel I was part, however briefly, of a vast but close family. The consideration of the doctors and nurses, who managed to create the impression that they had all the time in the world, even as they were rushed off their feet; the instant responses of the ward and the triage team whenever I ran into trouble after I was discharged; the regular phone calls the surgeon made to see how I was coping: this was more than just professionalism. It felt like care in every sense. I am convinced, in the light of my research for the album about loneliness that I made with the musician Ewan McLennan, that this attention was crucial to my recovery.

At home, I came to think of my bed as an oxytocin tent. The hugs my family gave me seemed to relieve both pain and the symptoms of fever faster than any of the drugs I took: the analgesic effect of physical contact, now widely documented, has not been exaggerated. And I drew courage from the thousands of wonderful messages I received. Thank you.

With this help, I discovered unimagined strengths. You can make resolutions that seem plausible – until they are fully tested. In the article I wrote two months ago, before my surgery, I mentioned the three principles that, I felt, were essential to happiness: imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better; change what you can change, accept what you can’t; and do not let fear rule your life.


The muscles round the operation site caused such pain I found myself curled up on the floor, nails hooked into the carpet

So did they work, or did I abandon them and freak out? They held up remarkably well. By reciting them to myself every day – before the operation, in its aftermath, during the complications and as the test results loomed – I never wavered, never fell prey to fear or anxiety. Knowing that I was in the best possible hands, I accepted what every day brought without worrying about what might happen on the next.

I felt not only that those three principles had been vindicated, but that they could be assimilated into a broader rule, namely: the state of being for which we should strive is to be attached to life without being possessive of it. We should seek to love our lives and live fully, but not to extend them indefinitely. We should love our children exuberantly, but not cling to them or curtail their freedoms. We should treasure the material world without seeking to own and control it.

The doctrines informing us that virtue and purity, or the states of jnana or sunyata, can be achieved, in some interpretations, by detachment from the physical senses and the material world hold little appeal for me, whether classical, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. A large body of literature suggests that wellbeing is intimately linked to attachment – not only to other people, but also to the natural world. As Jeremy Lent argues in his life-changing book The Patterning Instinct, the association of the tangible world with corruption, pollution and obstacles to enlightenment has informed our disdain for nature and accelerated its destruction, with devastating effects on our happiness.

But while attachment seems vital – in both senses of this word – liberating myself from the urge to possess has proved an astonishing antidote to fear and tension. I resolved to enjoy whatever life I had, and not to regret its loss if it seemed to be drawing to an end. The strength this brought me will enhance as many years as remain.

As it happens, I have been astonishingly lucky. That spasming appears to have been the short-term pain that presaged long-term gain. My wonderful surgeon, Alastair Lamb, applying recent research, used a technique that involves preserving more of the urethra. It feels like a breakthrough. One possible side-effect of this procedure is the hypercontinence I suffered. As soon as the second catheter was removed, this relaxed into normal continence, a result I had not expected for a long time, if ever. Until recently, such an outcome would have been unthinkable.

Similarly, albeit with the help of the blue pill, I have regained full erections. While I can no longer ejaculate, as seminal fluid is produced by the prostate, orgasms feel just as they did before. (Forgive me if I’m oversharing. Our health – men’s health in particular – has been blighted by undersharing.) Again, this recovery seems remarkably fast. After my last article, several well-wishers told me: “I’ll be rooting for you.” Thank you, but it is no longer necessary.

Most importantly, my test results suggest the operation has been successful. I’ve been given a 90% chance that the cancer will not return in the next five years. I feel I’ve been granted another life.

The quest now is to ensure that other men are as lucky as I have been. Above all, this means developing better diagnostic tests, to ensure that prostate cancer is caught early, as mine was. An analysis published in March concluded that the standard (PSA) test produces so many false positives and – more dangerously – false negatives that it has “no significant effect on prostate cancer mortality” over the following 10 years. Several promising improvements are being developed, including a cluster of tests called Stockholm3 and the mpMRI scan.

But much more funding is needed to assess and universalise them. The £75m the government promised last month will help, but it’s not enough. The March for Men and other campaigns by groups such as Prostate Cancer UK seek to fill the gap – please support them.

I will not abandon this issue, but I look forward to returning next week to the topics that still frighten me. The argumentative old git is back.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Selling lemonade to save your mother’s life? That’s American healthcare for you | Jamie Peck

When 11-year-old Nemiah Martinez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, found out her mom needed money to help her get a kidney and pancreas transplant, she didn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself. She got off her 11-year-old behind, pulled herself up by her Dora the Explorer shoelaces, and opened a lemonade stand.

To date, she’s raised over $ 1,000 for her mom’s care by selling drinks out of her family’s garage every weekend for $ 1.50 a pop. Now, with any luck, this resourceful little girl might still have a mother by the time she graduates from high school. “I’m the lucky one,” Nemiah’s mom, Paloma, told ABC News.

ABC News portrayed Nemiah’s plight as a feelgood human interest story. One radio show called the story “heartwarming”. We should call it what it really is: a damning indictment of everything that’s wrong with America.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans name the cost of, or lack of access to, healthcare as the most urgent health problem facing our country. As of the end of 2017, 12.2% of Americans lacked any kind of health insurance, a figure that’s once again rising since hitting a record low of 10.9% in 2016.

That spike has been the sharpest for African Americans, Hispanics and low-income people, and most disastrously for the risk pool, 18-25-year-olds. Experts estimate that tens of thousands of people die each year because they don’t have insurance, a number that will balloon even further if Trump and the Republican party manage to repeal Obamacare. Meanwhile, the Republican party just passed a $ 1.5tn tax cut, 70% of which will go to the top 1%.

Neither ABC, which reported on the story, nor the family’s GoFundMe page confirms whether Martinez has health insurance, but that might not matter. As of 2016, 40 million people and counting were underinsured, struggling to afford high out-of-pocket costs. Even with insurance, her transplants and subsequent drug regimens might not be fully covered, never mind the cost of multiple trips to and from the Mayo Center, where she is seeking treatment.

How did we reach this sordid state of affairs? Well, it’s been a long journey. While many progressive reforms were passed during the New Deal, president Franklin D Roosevelt backed off of universal healthcare for fear it would be too controversial.

Then, in 1942, a tight labor market caused by war spurred businesses to compete for workers with ever higher salaries. Fearing rampant inflation, FDR signed an executive order to freeze wages. Employers began using insurance benefits as another way to attract workers. And so, a private insurance industry arose that made profits by doling out as little care to the insured as it could get away with.

Politicians have periodically floated the idea of socialized medicine ever since, and Medicare and Medicaid did begin providing healthcare to elderly and (some) low-income Americans in 1965-6. But by this point, a powerful lobby had grown up around insurers and providers that made even these programs’ passage difficult. The recession of the 1970s shifted the balance of power from workers back to capital such that no further concessions could be extracted, and the rise of supply-side economics was the final nail in the coffin … until now?

As leftwing, populist movements have surged worldwide these past few years, one demand of American progressives has been a Medicare-for-all system that guarantees healthcare to all Americans, free at point of service. While presidential candidate Hillary Clinton painted this as a ridiculous flight of fancy as recently as 2016, the political terrain has shifted – thanks in no small part to grassroots activism – such that virtually every serious contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination supports some version of it.

As Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on Tuesday: “What Nemiah is doing is admirable, but an 11-year-old should not have to raise money to keep her mother alive in the wealthiest country in the world. Healthcare must be a right.”

Of course, some would argue that healthcare is a right, it’s just not being acknowledged by the powers that be. But until we actually win and enforce that right, it will remain a mere abstraction.

The five habits that can add more than a decade to your life

People who stick to five healthy habits in adulthood can add more than a decade to their lives, according to a major study into the impact behaviour has on lifespan.

Researchers at Harvard University used lifestyle questionnaires and medical records from 123,000 volunteers to understand how much longer people lived if they followed a healthy diet, controlled their weight, took regular exercise, drank in moderation and did not smoke.

When the scientists calculated average life expectancy, they noticed a dramatic effect from the healthy habits. Compared with people who adopted none of them, men and women who adhered to all five saw their life expectancy at 50 rise from 26 to 38 years and 29 to 43 years respectively, or an extra 12 years for men and 14 for women.

“When we embarked on this study, I thought, of course, that people who adopted these habits would live longer. But the surprising thing was how huge the effect was,” said Meir Stampfer, a co-author on the study and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

The researchers performed the analysis in the hope of understanding why the US, which spends more on healthcare as a proportion of GDP than any other nation, ranks 31st in the world for life expectancy at birth. According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 76.9 and 81.6 years old for US men and women respectively. The equivalent figures for Britain are very similar at 79.4 and 83 years old.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, suggests poor lifestyle is a major factor that cuts American lives short. Only 8% of the general population followed all five healthy habits. The research focused on the US population, but Stampfer said the findings applied to the UK and much of the western world.

The five healthy habits were defined as not smoking; having a body mass index between 18.5 and 25; taking at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, having no more than one 150ml glass of wine a day for women, or two for men; and having a diet rich in items such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, saturated fats and sugar.

Men and women who had such healthy lives were 82% less likely to die of heart disease and 65% less likely to die of cancer compared with those with the least healthy lifestyles, over the roughly 30 years of the study.

Given that the habits of a healthy lifestyle are well known, the mystery is why we are so bad at adopting them, said Stampfer. Part of the problem is that many people struggle to give up smoking, and the continuous peddling of unhealthy food, as well as poor urban planning, which can make it hard for people to exercise, also feed in, he said.

“I do think people need to step up and take some personal responsibility, but as a society we need to make it easier for people to do that,” he said. “People can get stuck in a rut and think it’s too late to change their ways, but what we find is that when people do change their ways, we see remarkable benefits.”

‘Drama saved my life’: how performing can help mental health problems

Kerry Shadbolt feared for her life as she approached the end of two years of drama therapy, provided by the NHS to help her manage her emotionally unstable personality disorder. Shadbolt, 47, had formed close friendships within her group and it was a place where she felt she could be herself. It was also sometimes the only thing she could leave her house for.

She says: “When you get therapy it’s always time limited. When you get to the end of the prescribed period, that’s it. Off you go. There’s no discussion or follow on. There’s no safety net and you get left to fend for yourself.”

It was a massive relief, then, when Gerald Maiello, the drama therapist she had been working with, put up a poster asking for interest in forming a theatre company that would mean the group could keep meeting and performing. And so May Contain Nuts was born.

The group meets every Tuesday at the Hertfordshire partnership NHS foundation trust in Watford, and improvises scenes that explore topics such as self-harm and suicide, inspired by members’ real-life experiences. It also puts on performances for audiences – including staff at the trust and university students studying psychology and drama therapy – to raise awareness of mental health problems and how they can affect people.

May Contain Nuts


Performances aim to highlight the need for healthcare professionals to see people above and beyond a mental health diagnosis. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Guardian

A cross-party inquiry co-chaired by former arts ministers Alan Howarth and Ed Vaizey last year concluded that the arts can keep people well, aid recovery from illness, help people live longer, have better lives and save money in health and social care services. Despite this, they are still not used enough in the NHS, according to Maiello, who works at the trust. “It’s wrong, because they can offer a lot,” he says.

Another benefit of the project is that it offers current and former mental health patients a lifeline when the help prescribed to them by the NHS stops. The consequences of leaving people with mental health problems to drift can be dire, as a report into mental health care by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman highlighted. The report cited one case where an individual who had bipolar disorder and a personality disorder took their life after being discharged from a community team.

Shadbolt says May Contain Nuts saved her life. “When I’m suicidal, just knowing that these guys are rooting for me is what gets me through,” she says. “These are the only people that understand and know where I’m coming from. I wouldn’t survive without them.”

Another member, Katie Allen-Smith, 34, who also lives with emotionally unstable personality disorder, says: “This group has been the difference between an ambulance being called for someone in time or not. I’ve been in touch with members of the group on Whatsapp or Messenger and they’ve contacted my husband and said ‘You need to go and get her’ when I couldn’t do anything.”

May Contain Nuts


Audiences have been moved to tears by the performances. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Guardian

As well as the peer support on offer, the group ieducates people on living with mental health issues. It puts on performances and then holds a workshop to discuss what the audience has just seen. Healthcare students find this particularly helpful as they can ask candid and probing questions that they might be afraid to in a clinical setting.

Kevin Smith, 56, who has post traumatic stress disorder and depression, says: “When we’ve done a performance, sometimes we take a bow and the audience stands there clapping. You think, ‘Wow. I’ve made an impression. I’m getting the message out there.’”

Audiences have been moved to tears by the sometimes difficult drama on display, especially seeing a character crumple under the weight of mental health problems. Students have said they’ve learned more in a couple of hours with the group than in two years of their course.

It’s this performance aspect that Maiello is most proud of. “Every performance is an achievement,” he says. He has noticed that the key themes the group explores are rejection, loss, abandonment and grief – which are at odds with going up on stage. “If you’ve experienced a lot of rejection, why go on stage to receive more?”

He adds that the performances aim to highlight the need for healthcare professionals to see people above and beyond a diagnosis. “If it enables them to see more than just a mental health diagnosis, then we’ve won the day.”

May Contain Nuts won in the mental health category, sponsored by the Guardian, at the UK Advancing Healthcare Awards for allied health professionals and healthcare scientists leading innovative healthcare practice.

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs

‘Drama saved my life’: how performing can help mental health problems

Kerry Shadbolt feared for her life as she approached the end of two years of drama therapy, provided by the NHS to help her manage her emotionally unstable personality disorder. Shadbolt, 47, had formed close friendships within her group and it was a place where she felt she could be herself. It was also sometimes the only thing she could leave her house for.

She says: “When you get therapy it’s always time limited. When you get to the end of the prescribed period, that’s it. Off you go. There’s no discussion or follow on. There’s no safety net and you get left to fend for yourself.”

It was a massive relief, then, when Gerald Maiello, the drama therapist she had been working with, put up a poster asking for interest in forming a theatre company that would mean the group could keep meeting and performing. And so May Contain Nuts was born.

The group meets every Tuesday at the Hertfordshire partnership NHS foundation trust in Watford, and improvises scenes that explore topics such as self-harm and suicide, inspired by members’ real-life experiences. It also puts on performances for audiences – including staff at the trust and university students studying psychology and drama therapy – to raise awareness of mental health problems and how they can affect people.

May Contain Nuts


Performances aim to highlight the need for healthcare professionals to see people above and beyond a mental health diagnosis. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Guardian

A cross-party inquiry co-chaired by former arts ministers Alan Howarth and Ed Vaizey last year concluded that the arts can keep people well, aid recovery from illness, help people live longer, have better lives and save money in health and social care services. Despite this, they are still not used enough in the NHS, according to Maiello, who works at the trust. “It’s wrong, because they can offer a lot,” he says.

Another benefit of the project is that it offers current and former mental health patients a lifeline when the help prescribed to them by the NHS stops. The consequences of leaving people with mental health problems to drift can be dire, as a report into mental health care by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman highlighted. The report cited one case where an individual who had bipolar disorder and a personality disorder took their life after being discharged from a community team.

Shadbolt says May Contain Nuts saved her life. “When I’m suicidal, just knowing that these guys are rooting for me is what gets me through,” she says. “These are the only people that understand and know where I’m coming from. I wouldn’t survive without them.”

Another member, Katie Allen-Smith, 34, who also lives with emotionally unstable personality disorder, says: “This group has been the difference between an ambulance being called for someone in time or not. I’ve been in touch with members of the group on Whatsapp or Messenger and they’ve contacted my husband and said ‘You need to go and get her’ when I couldn’t do anything.”

May Contain Nuts


Audiences have been moved to tears by the performances. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Guardian

As well as the peer support on offer, the group ieducates people on living with mental health issues. It puts on performances and then holds a workshop to discuss what the audience has just seen. Healthcare students find this particularly helpful as they can ask candid and probing questions that they might be afraid to in a clinical setting.

Kevin Smith, 56, who has post traumatic stress disorder and depression, says: “When we’ve done a performance, sometimes we take a bow and the audience stands there clapping. You think, ‘Wow. I’ve made an impression. I’m getting the message out there.’”

Audiences have been moved to tears by the sometimes difficult drama on display, especially seeing a character crumple under the weight of mental health problems. Students have said they’ve learned more in a couple of hours with the group than in two years of their course.

It’s this performance aspect that Maiello is most proud of. “Every performance is an achievement,” he says. He has noticed that the key themes the group explores are rejection, loss, abandonment and grief – which are at odds with going up on stage. “If you’ve experienced a lot of rejection, why go on stage to receive more?”

He adds that the performances aim to highlight the need for healthcare professionals to see people above and beyond a diagnosis. “If it enables them to see more than just a mental health diagnosis, then we’ve won the day.”

May Contain Nuts won in the mental health category, sponsored by the Guardian, at the UK Advancing Healthcare Awards for allied health professionals and healthcare scientists leading innovative healthcare practice.

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs

Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, study says

Lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth, research has revealed.

Loneliness should be taken seriously as a potential marker for other problems, the team behind the study say, though it is not clear whether loneliness is behind the other problems or instead caused by them.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Discussion about loneliness has mostly focused on the elderly, but a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people aged 16-24 felt lonely more often than any other age group of adults.

The health impacts of loneliness have also been under scrutiny – studies have shown that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die before their time, with research suggesting loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more hazardous than being obese.

The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is based on a large-scale study known as the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which assessed same-sex twins, born in 1994-1995, at various stages of their life. The new research draws on surveys conducted when the participants reached 18 years of age, and involved 2,066 participants.

Participants were asked whether they often, sometimes or hardly ever experienced various aspects of loneliness as well as being quizzed on factors including their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and relationship with technology. The researchers also looked back at the participants’ family environments and mental health, as well as other data collected in previous years.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” said Matthews.

The results reveal that up to 7% of participants said they often had feelings of loneliness, with 23-31% of participants saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking in companionship some of the time. The results held regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

The researchers then pooled the responses to give an overall measure of loneliness. After taking into account gender and socioeconomic status, they found that for every two-point increase on an eight-point loneliness scale, the odds of experiencing depression, anxiety or attempting suicide all more than doubled, while the odds of being unemployed rose by 38% .

Among other findings loneliness was also linked to smoking, being less physically active, compulsive use of digital technology, having low qualifications and being less likely to talk about problems with others – although it was not related to job hunting efforts.

The team notes that the study has some limitations, including that all participants had at least one sibling, and that loneliness was only measured once for 18-year-olds. But, they add, the study suggests increasing contact between individuals might not be enough to tackle loneliness and that approaches should include addressing bullying, isolation and mental health in children, since these were found to be linked to greater loneliness at 18.

Anne Rogers, professor of health systems implementation at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research raises questions about whether lonely children go on to become lonely adults, it is important to consider that loneliness can also be down to social situations, such as the death of friends or health crises, or even belonging to a group that is marginalised.

“Whilst calls for early intervention might be one way of addressing [loneliness], we need to look at developing and evaluating interventions that might connect people to social opportunities and networks of support in everyday settings – ie doing something which makes a difference to loneliness,” she said.

Stephen Buckley of the mental health charity Mind added: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly connected.

“Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re not feeling so good.”

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, study says

Lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth, research has revealed.

Loneliness should be taken seriously as a potential marker for other problems, the team behind the study say, though it is not clear whether loneliness is behind the other problems or instead caused by them.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Discussion about loneliness has mostly focused on the elderly, but a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people aged 16-24 felt lonely more often than any other age group of adults.

The health impacts of loneliness have also been under scrutiny – studies have shown that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die before their time, with research suggesting loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more hazardous than being obese.

The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is based on a large-scale study known as the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which assessed same-sex twins, born in 1994-1995, at various stages of their life. The new research draws on surveys conducted when the participants reached 18 years of age, and involved 2,066 participants.

Participants were asked whether they often, sometimes or hardly ever experienced various aspects of loneliness as well as being quizzed on factors including their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and relationship with technology. The researchers also looked back at the participants’ family environments and mental health, as well as other data collected in previous years.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” said Matthews.

The results reveal that up to 7% of participants said they often had feelings of loneliness, with 23-31% of participants saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking in companionship some of the time. The results held regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

The researchers then pooled the responses to give an overall measure of loneliness. After taking into account gender and socioeconomic status, they found that for every two-point increase on an eight-point loneliness scale, the odds of experiencing depression, anxiety or attempting suicide all more than doubled, while the odds of being unemployed rose by 38% .

Among other findings loneliness was also linked to smoking, being less physically active, compulsive use of digital technology, having low qualifications and being less likely to talk about problems with others – although it was not related to job hunting efforts.

The team notes that the study has some limitations, including that all participants had at least one sibling, and that loneliness was only measured once for 18-year-olds. But, they add, the study suggests increasing contact between individuals might not be enough to tackle loneliness and that approaches should include addressing bullying, isolation and mental health in children, since these were found to be linked to greater loneliness at 18.

Anne Rogers, professor of health systems implementation at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research raises questions about whether lonely children go on to become lonely adults, it is important to consider that loneliness can also be down to social situations, such as the death of friends or health crises, or even belonging to a group that is marginalised.

“Whilst calls for early intervention might be one way of addressing [loneliness], we need to look at developing and evaluating interventions that might connect people to social opportunities and networks of support in everyday settings – ie doing something which makes a difference to loneliness,” she said.

Stephen Buckley of the mental health charity Mind added: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly connected.

“Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re not feeling so good.”

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, study says

Lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth, research has revealed.

Loneliness should be taken seriously as a potential marker for other problems, the team behind the study say, though it is not clear whether loneliness is behind the other problems or instead caused by them.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Discussion about loneliness has mostly focused on the elderly, but a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people aged 16-24 felt lonely more often than any other age group of adults.

The health impacts of loneliness have also been under scrutiny – studies have shown that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die before their time, with research suggesting loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more hazardous than being obese.

The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is based on a large-scale study known as the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which assessed same-sex twins, born in 1994-1995, at various stages of their life. The new research draws on surveys conducted when the participants reached 18 years of age, and involved 2,066 participants.

Participants were asked whether they often, sometimes or hardly ever experienced various aspects of loneliness as well as being quizzed on factors including their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and relationship with technology. The researchers also looked back at the participants’ family environments and mental health, as well as other data collected in previous years.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” said Matthews.

The results reveal that up to 7% of participants said they often had feelings of loneliness, with 23-31% of participants saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking in companionship some of the time. The results held regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

The researchers then pooled the responses to give an overall measure of loneliness. After taking into account gender and socioeconomic status, they found that for every two-point increase on an eight-point loneliness scale, the odds of experiencing depression, anxiety or attempting suicide all more than doubled, while the odds of being unemployed rose by 38% .

Among other findings loneliness was also linked to smoking, being less physically active, compulsive use of digital technology, having low qualifications and being less likely to talk about problems with others – although it was not related to job hunting efforts.

The team notes that the study has some limitations, including that all participants had at least one sibling, and that loneliness was only measured once for 18-year-olds. But, they add, the study suggests increasing contact between individuals might not be enough to tackle loneliness and that approaches should include addressing bullying, isolation and mental health in children, since these were found to be linked to greater loneliness at 18.

Anne Rogers, professor of health systems implementation at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research raises questions about whether lonely children go on to become lonely adults, it is important to consider that loneliness can also be down to social situations, such as the death of friends or health crises, or even belonging to a group that is marginalised.

“Whilst calls for early intervention might be one way of addressing [loneliness], we need to look at developing and evaluating interventions that might connect people to social opportunities and networks of support in everyday settings – ie doing something which makes a difference to loneliness,” she said.

Stephen Buckley of the mental health charity Mind added: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly connected.

“Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re not feeling so good.”

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, study says

Lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth, research has revealed.

Loneliness should be taken seriously as a potential marker for other problems, the team behind the study say, though it is not clear whether loneliness is behind the other problems or instead caused by them.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Discussion about loneliness has mostly focused on the elderly, but a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people aged 16-24 felt lonely more often than any other age group of adults.

The health impacts of loneliness have also been under scrutiny – studies have shown that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die before their time, with research suggesting loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more hazardous than being obese.

The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is based on a large-scale study known as the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which assessed same-sex twins, born in 1994-1995, at various stages of their life. The new research draws on surveys conducted when the participants reached 18 years of age, and involved 2,066 participants.

Participants were asked whether they often, sometimes or hardly ever experienced various aspects of loneliness as well as being quizzed on factors including their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and relationship with technology. The researchers also looked back at the participants’ family environments and mental health, as well as other data collected in previous years.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” said Matthews.

The results reveal that up to 7% of participants said they often had feelings of loneliness, with 23-31% of participants saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking in companionship some of the time. The results held regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

The researchers then pooled the responses to give an overall measure of loneliness. After taking into account gender and socioeconomic status, they found that for every two-point increase on an eight-point loneliness scale, the odds of experiencing depression, anxiety or attempting suicide all more than doubled, while the odds of being unemployed rose by 38% .

Among other findings loneliness was also linked to smoking, being less physically active, compulsive use of digital technology, having low qualifications and being less likely to talk about problems with others – although it was not related to job hunting efforts.

The team notes that the study has some limitations, including that all participants had at least one sibling, and that loneliness was only measured once for 18-year-olds. But, they add, the study suggests increasing contact between individuals might not be enough to tackle loneliness and that approaches should include addressing bullying, isolation and mental health in children, since these were found to be linked to greater loneliness at 18.

Anne Rogers, professor of health systems implementation at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research raises questions about whether lonely children go on to become lonely adults, it is important to consider that loneliness can also be down to social situations, such as the death of friends or health crises, or even belonging to a group that is marginalised.

“Whilst calls for early intervention might be one way of addressing [loneliness], we need to look at developing and evaluating interventions that might connect people to social opportunities and networks of support in everyday settings – ie doing something which makes a difference to loneliness,” she said.

Stephen Buckley of the mental health charity Mind added: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly connected.

“Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re not feeling so good.”

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, study says

Lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth, research has revealed.

Loneliness should be taken seriously as a potential marker for other problems, the team behind the study say, though it is not clear whether loneliness is behind the other problems or instead caused by them.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Discussion about loneliness has mostly focused on the elderly, but a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people aged 16-24 felt lonely more often than any other age group of adults.

The health impacts of loneliness have also been under scrutiny – studies have shown that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die before their time, with research suggesting loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more hazardous than being obese.

The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is based on a large-scale study known as the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which assessed same-sex twins, born in 1994-1995, at various stages of their life. The new research draws on surveys conducted when the participants reached 18 years of age, and involved 2,066 participants.

Participants were asked whether they often, sometimes or hardly ever experienced various aspects of loneliness as well as being quizzed on factors including their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and relationship with technology. The researchers also looked back at the participants’ family environments and mental health, as well as other data collected in previous years.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” said Matthews.

The results reveal that up to 7% of participants said they often had feelings of loneliness, with 23-31% of participants saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking in companionship some of the time. The results held regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

The researchers then pooled the responses to give an overall measure of loneliness. After taking into account gender and socioeconomic status, they found that for every two-point increase on an eight-point loneliness scale, the odds of experiencing depression, anxiety or attempting suicide all more than doubled, while the odds of being unemployed rose by 38% .

Among other findings loneliness was also linked to smoking, being less physically active, compulsive use of digital technology, having low qualifications and being less likely to talk about problems with others – although it was not related to job hunting efforts.

The team notes that the study has some limitations, including that all participants had at least one sibling, and that loneliness was only measured once for 18-year-olds. But, they add, the study suggests increasing contact between individuals might not be enough to tackle loneliness and that approaches should include addressing bullying, isolation and mental health in children, since these were found to be linked to greater loneliness at 18.

Anne Rogers, professor of health systems implementation at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research raises questions about whether lonely children go on to become lonely adults, it is important to consider that loneliness can also be down to social situations, such as the death of friends or health crises, or even belonging to a group that is marginalised.

“Whilst calls for early intervention might be one way of addressing [loneliness], we need to look at developing and evaluating interventions that might connect people to social opportunities and networks of support in everyday settings – ie doing something which makes a difference to loneliness,” she said.

Stephen Buckley of the mental health charity Mind added: “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly connected.

“Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re not feeling so good.”

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.