I gave a short speech to parliament on Thursday about the challenge of loneliness, an issue that gets less policy attention than it probably deserves.
Loneliness, 12 May 2011
A recent article in the Australian noted that one in four Australians suffer from loneliness as a serious problem. In fact, loneliness is one of the fastest-growing contemporary issues in modern Australia. Many of us here know Professor Adrian Franklin as a panel member on the ABC's Collectors program. But he is also one of the country's leading sociologists and has recently conducted extensive research on housing, loneliness and health. Loneliness is a grim reality that I know the member for Wakefield has also written about.
Between 1986 and 2006, the share of people living on their own rose from 9 per cent to 13 per cent. People who report being lonely are twice as likely to experience poor health as those who do not. As our population ages, more elderly people will be living alone. Loneliness exacerbates anxiety and depression, already the leading cause of disability in young Australians. If we are not careful, we may be caught in a classic pincer movement where loneliness and its physical, mental and social implications will affect more and more Australians, both young and old.
So I would encourage us to continue our efforts to engage with marginalised and vulnerable members of our communities. It is something I do in my own electorate of Fraser. As I wrote in Disconnected, 'A smiley face emoticon isn't much of a substitute for a smile.'
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