Green Room: Loneliness



With Revd Dr John Harrison, Honorary Environment Adviser 
to the Bishop of Newcastle

This is the 60th Green Room contribution to Link and in almost all of these the focus has been on human interaction with what may loosely be referred to as physical aspects of our environment. So we have expressed concern about, for example, our contribution to climatic change, the pollution of our environment and the ecological impacts of our activities. So, for a change, this Green Room discussion takes us away from the physical sciences and enters an area which is more to do with human interaction but is nevertheless one of the important environmental issues of our time, and that is the issue of loneliness.

A particular phrase used by scientist Steve Cole of the University of California, Los 

Angeles (UCLA), who studies the impact of loneliness on human health at a molecular level, caught my eye and seems to be calling for urgent action -  “I’d always thought of loneliness as a nuisance, not one of  the most toxic environmental conditions we can possibly encounter..”
Loneliness is not about being on one’s own but is an inner, sometimes desperate, feeling of being socially isolated or disengaged from the society in which we live, and the UCLA work shows that we are only now beginning to understand its serious consequences. It can increase the risk of many of the chronic diseases to levels associated with smoking and obesity. I suggest that you read a recent report published in 2017 ‘Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness’ ( which draws parallels with other toxic elements in our environment. For example, loneliness has the equivalent health impact of several cigarettes a day and can increase the odds of early mortality. If these related to more familiar environmental contaminants we would be calling for action to eradicate them.

The importance of loneliness in our society has been recognised by the UK Government and in January this year (2018) a Minister of Loneliness, Tracey Crouch, was appointed.  I would like to think that this issue is of such environmental importance to the Christian church that we should get on board before it is too late, if for no other reason than social interaction is at the core of what we do. However, I think we should be clear that this is not simply about inviting those who live alone to coffee mornings or free lunches, but is about bringing engagement and meaning into human lives. We can’t simply hold out the hand of charity but should be exploring ways in which sharing Christ’s love can transform life.

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