Did you know that loneliness, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, can shorten a person's life by 15 years, making it as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day? With 50% higher chances of premature death, lonely individuals need healthy social relationships now more than ever.
Are you silently suffering from loneliness, seeking meaningful connections in our digital era amidst the ongoing pandemic?
In this episode of the me&my health up podcast, host Anthony Hartcher and guest Dr. Michelle Lim explore the critical issue of loneliness in Australia, intensified by the COVID pandemic, and its impact on mental and physical health. Learn to combat this silent emergency by understanding the difference between social isolation and loneliness, the vulnerability of various age groups, and effective strategies for overcoming loneliness. Tune in to find support, nurture deeper connections, and enhance your overall wellbeing in these challenging times.
Loneliness Is Harmful to Our Nation's Health. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/loneliness-is-harmful-to-our-nations-health/
5 million Australians impacted by loneliness - KPMG Australia. https://kpmg.com/au/en/home/media/press-releases/2022/11/connections-matter-australians-impacted-by-loneliness-7-november-2022.html
About Dr. Michelle Lim:
Connect with Dr. Michelle Lim:
About me&my health up & Anthony Hartcher
me&my health up seeks to enhance and enlighten the well-being of others. Host Anthony Hartcher is the CEO of me&my wellness which provides holistic health solutions using food as medicine, combined with a holistic, balanced, lifestyle approach. Anthony holds three bachelor's degrees in Complementary Medicine; Nutrition and Dietetic Medicine; and Chemical Engineering.
Any information, advice, opinions or statements within it do not constitute medical, health care or other professional advice, and are provided for general information purposes only. All care is taken in the preparation of the information in this Podcast. [Connected Wellness Pty Ltd] operating under the brand of “me&my health up”..click here for more
Did you know that one in two Australians are feeling lonelier now than pre COVID? It is a statistic that is also global. And it's even amongst the lower socio economic countries as well. So it's not just a affluent issue. We're talking about loneliness today. And it's essentially looking at loneliness, the stigma, and how to find support, did you know that you have a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality, you have a 29% increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke if you are lonely, a study has found that being lonely is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it is worth ending, and Dr. Michelle Lim, our guest today is the chair of ending loneliness together. And so we're going to be getting into our discussion around loneliness, what it is and what you can do about it. The insight that I found was our expectations we have around our friends and the fact that we don't realize that our friendships are dynamic flux, they're always moving in and out of friend new friendships, depending on our life circumstances. And guess what you've landed on me&my health up podcast, I'm your host, Anthony Hartcher. I'm a clinical nutritionist and lifestyle medicine specialists. The purpose of this podcast is to enhance and enlighten your well being and Dr. Michelle Lim, who is a clinical psychologist will be doing that just for you. So welcome into the show. Welcome on me&my health up podcast,. How are you today, Michelle?Michelle Lim:
Very well, thank you, Anthony.Anthony Hartcher:
So great to have you on. In terms of this very important topic of Ending Australia's Loneliness. You're the chair of the organization and doing some fantastic work in terms of getting the message out there. We all are aware in terms of what the pandemic did in terms of bringing us and made us more isolated. And you'll share some stats with me that one in two are reporting an increase like a situation of loneliness, or, you know, some sort of loneliness since the COVID pandemic. So before we get into this episode of loneliness, and this Australia's emergency, silent emergency, let's find out a little bit more about you. So I'm really keen to understand how you've arrived at what you're doing today.Michelle Lim:
Yeah, so in its of, so it's been a little bit of a strange journey for me, you know, in terms of my personal experience, but also professional experience about why I'm doing this road at the moment and trying to combat Australia's problematic levels of loneliness. So just as a background, you know, I have been a clinical psychologist for the last 19 years, you know, and going through training, you know, we're really very much taught about, you know, how do we identify people who are depressed, so socially anxious, or perhaps people who might have serious mental illness? How do we keep them from being safe and not, you know, hurt themselves or others? And we're very good at doing that, you know, and what I found, though, I guess, in my experience, as I progress through my career, is that I see people and, you know, often when they do come to me, it's not necessarily the main complaint is not necessarily because they're depressed, yes, it's a symptom of what they're experiencing. But really, when we kind of, you know, uncover what is going on, it's often often or interpersonal issues often about a relationship that's broken down, it's about a friendship that's broken, it's about losing friends, not feeling connected to friends, not feeling connected to community or a family. And, you know, there are, I have also, you know, had extensive experience of working with with people with serious mental illness. So we're talking about people who've been diagnosed with psychotic disorders or bipolar, and this, you know, the very vulnerable groups out in our community, there are times where, you know, we would see them on a daily basis. So we're talking about, you know, in public mental health, we will go out to their house on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day. And the main complaint of many of the people we see is that they are lonely. And it doesn't matter if they were staying in a group house, their mom and dad, sometimes with siblings of extended family, they might be in big households, but the complaint was very consistent. And in fact, when we look back at large epidemiological surveys in Australia, or especially in in psychosis surveys, what they have found is that loneliness was actually a top challenge in people with psychotic disorders. You know, this is in addition to finding employment and financial, you know, it's very much on the top of the list. It's not on the top of the clinicians list. Often, we also we only think about the person's social relationships, maybe perhaps, as we're trying to discharge them off our list as I tried to discharge them off our books, and we think, Oh, maybe they need someone but actually, I think we really, really have to think differently. And in fact, the more I looked into this and did some further research. So I did my postdoctoral research fellowship in this in this area realize that actually loneliness was an antecedent to poor mental health, but yet, we always want to tackle it in the kind of downstream when people are really feeling bad or feeling suicidal, they're not in and they're not the best. And we try to work on that. And I think it's really an uphill battle for psychologists. And so, you know, a lot of my passion really comes from, you know, understanding how do we how do we prevent people from getting there, you know, how do we actually try to promote a sense of connection, a sense of belonging, reducing someone's loneliness and social isolation before they actually get a get unwell. And for many viewers out there as well, I think, you know, whilst we assume that loneliness is only a mental health issue, actually, loneliness has robust detrimental consequences for physical health. In fact, most of the studies have been on physical health and not on mental health. And, and it goes down to, you know, if you do feel lonely, you're going to have her heart health, inability to fight off infections, inability to regulate your sleep in less motivation, exercise, and they all make sense, you know, if you don't feel connected to people around you, if you don't feel that meaningful connection, when people understand you, or that you have someone to go to, why bother to take care of my health. So I think, you know, for me, it's a very much, you know, from that professional, I guess, passion that I really kind of want to work through this area. And of course, if you know me, as well, and here are for what I say loneliness happens to all of us. And I would be lying to tell you that I would be lying to you, if I didn't say I felt lonely, I think it's really important for all of us to be able to, you know, sit in front of other people and say, of course, I've been lonely before, that's not very different to feeling hungry or thirsty. So having felt the pain of loneliness myself, I think it really then accelerates this drive for me to kind of do the work that I do.Anthony Hartcher:
Thanks for sharing that. Michelle, who's most susceptible to this, right? So is there a different, you know, in terms of an age demographic agenda that yeah, so if you could just sort of share as to what you find with your research.Michelle Lim:
Yeah, so what we do know from both international and national data is that all of us are so susceptible to loneliness, where the confusion is, first of all, I think, just take a step back a step that differences in loneliness, and social isolation, because our age differences across that. So social isolation is when you're objectively by yourself, that doesn't mean that you feel lonely. So you know, there are people who can be quite comfortable living by themselves, you know, format their environment in such a way they really feel fulfilled, there's not necessarily distress there, compared to loneliness, where you might be living with other people working, living in an urban environment, you're very connected, but you still feel subjectively alone, like something's not right. So when we look across the ages, what we do see is that, for example, older people are very much socially isolated, so they are more likely to live by themselves, they're more likely to be disconnected with their community, that doesn't necessarily always mean that they're lonely, we do see that people who are hitting maybe 75, and above, so when you actually getting into, I guess, an age group where perhaps you might lose a loved one, you might lose your friends, you might have poor health, you have inability to actually access places, you know, because of health reasons. We do see an increase in loneliness during that time. But what's really surprising in our data, and consistently across the world is that we see 18 to 25, particularly vulnerable group. And we if we look at that particular group, you can see that they're going through a life transition. So you go from, you know, high school, to either University, future employment, further training and other types of vocation learning to adjust going from high school, which is quite, I would say, a structured and safe environment for most of us and having to go into university or further employment, or perhaps, you know, a workplace where you don't have the same age peers to interact with. So you really have to interact with much older people in their 40s and 50s. That group really struggles. And so you see a spike in loneliness, actually, in 18, to 25, very much not socially isolated, or very well integrated in society, very competent in digital technology, lots of friends, but we'll still say a few lonely a few disconnected, and we do also see a high level of emerging mental health or mental health issues in that group. So it could probably coincide again with that 18 to 25 year old group.Anthony Hartcher:
And that groups probably been you know, one of the mostly affected by the pandemic, in terms of online learning and not really having that interaction and or starting in the workforce and starting in a hybrid model or a work from home model where they're not really feeling part of the team. They're essentially just on a computer looking at the screen.Michelle Lim:
Yeah. And Anthony, you and I both have been that at that age group some time ago. Right. So you know, do you remember the time where you really just want to hang out your friends, you really just want to just be places with them. And you will say yes to I don't know, like going out at 10pm at night, you know, kind of remember that time anymore. But, you know, you just want to be there. You know, and, and I can't imagine the inability to do those things, those that social freedom that young people really had to compromise on, including things like dating, dating, that's such a normal thing for an 18 year old to want to date, and so distressing that they can't date. So they have this, they had to hit pause on everything, and it was incredibly distressing. And I felt really, really terrible for that age group. And, you know, especially when they are not able to do what they had imagine, you know, what university life would have been, like, what you know, learning and a TAFE looks like, you know, all of those conceptions of what they mean to they really had to adjust and revise and really think about how they can cope with I guess, a lot less social freedom.Anthony Hartcher:
And you mentioned a number of times in terms of like, we'll certainly that generation is well connected digitally. And you said they're well integrated into society. So they have friendships or friendships or there is loneliness, is there some factor in relation to the depth and the depth of the relationship, as opposed to just having a friendship where you're happy to hang out with them is a reflection of how many deep relations you have, and, you know, enables you to then reach out to them in times of need, or yet you can feel that you've got people to depend on in times of need, because you have that depth of relationship is. Have you noticed any correlation between Yeah,Michelle Lim:
And it look, it's very consistent with developmental milestones as well. When you kind of think of young people generally, in terms of how they view friendships, they will favor quantity over quality. That's probably why social media works very well with that particular age group, because it's all about quantity, number of people, you know, and number of likes that you can get, as opposed to the quality of relationships. But we do know, though, that as you age that changes, so that's not anything wrong with young people being immature, it's just a way that we form and we develop socially, you know, we want to explore and find out who we are as a person, how do we navigate these groups, and we have to have lots of exposure across different types of people to really understand who we are as a person. So that's part and parcel of why they might favor more people and learning to adjust as opposed to fewer. And as we get older, what happens is that our networks compress. So we realize, oh, I have a lot less time or this is not so important to me anymore, I know who I am, as a person I know, the people I want to hang out with. So I'm going to be a bit more selective, I know that I don't have to say yes, all the time, really kind of getting the confidence up and our net will start to shrink. And as we get older, older, you know, you probably can recognize that this in in your own life. That, you know, you go from a huge group of friends all the way down to maybe a handful of friends. And we do know from from psychology that cognitively in our brains, we can really only nurture a handful of people. And then you have a wider group of people that you connect with, which is probably around 10. And then 20, it goes all the way all the way up. So I think, you know, we will know the level of investment in particular friends, and we kind of put them in little layers, almost. And we know who to access and who not to access for younger people, they probably don't have that everyone's really in their inner circle 100 people, so they have to navigate that and build that circle. When that those layers around them.Anthony Hartcher:
Yeah, they struggle to name their best friend because they have hundreds of friends.Michelle Lim:
Yeah, for which, for which topic or which issue. Yeah, that's probably what they would say. Yeah,Anthony Hartcher:
Very much, so in terms of like, you know, overcoming this loneliness, what's most important in terms of that deep friendship or deep relationship or that more broad back, you know, across many diverse areas? What's more important, what have you found?Michelle Lim:
So I what we do know is because loneliness is subjective, what might work for me might not work for you and think so I think it's really important to kind of think back about your preferences. So if you feel lonely, first of all, I think it's really important to say, great, you recognize that it's not a bad thing. It's again, very much similar to feeling thirsty and needing to drink and feeling hungry and needing to eat if you feel lonely, it means to something else different about your relationships at the moment. And for some people there might not be as lucky to have those very deep relationships for various reasons and through no fault of their own. And it could be that actually having those minute brief social interactions with strangers with people that are kind of the past in the day in the routine, you know, saying hi to the person who makes your coffee, for example, and building that conversation actually means something to them, as opposed to needing to really go out and make a new best friend right away. And, and often if you think about our friendships and our very deep friendships, they they do happen organically, and it's because we make the effort. We actually, you know, sit high and build that friendship over time. So good deep friendships don't happen immediately. They rarely do. But being able to open up to little conversations and to build into them, those little conversations into more meaningful conversations are probably is a much more feasible way to actually develop more meaningful connection. So what's your top tips in terms of if someone's feeling lonely, as you said, it's a subjective experience, but they're, they've got that sense of loneliness or feeling that way? What are your tips in terms of how to progress forward? Yeah, well, I would say to them, great, it's fantastic that you know what it is, and you, you understand, this is your loneliness, and sit back and understand what you need, and actually assess what actually is accessible to you as well, you know, what's within your social context in which you can tap into second epic, you know, we most of us have one to one person, or, you know, even if it's an acquaintance that we can start up building a deeper connection with remembering as well that not everyone has to be a good friend, or has to be the best friend. But it's really exploring and deepening, you know, making an acquaintance and a friend, or deepening a work relationship that you have start small, I really think that it's people often, you know, put too much expectations on themselves. And it's incredibly hard to make friends as an adult, it's really hard. You know, we think that, you know, it should come easy, because we're human, and we're social creatures, but actually, it's very difficult when most of society and and our community, you know, may not necessarily always fit with pay for connection. And that is probably why we have a loneliness epidemic, or really understanding that if this person is is not open to connection, that's fine. What about that person and being able to connect, explore or extending that network and, you know, getting to know people and and you don't have to get to know them deeply. But getting to know that know more people, through shared interest groups, for each example, is one avenue where you could go, oh, you know, Anthony, could be a lovely friend, you know, in my book club, I think he really liked to have a coffee one day considering those little options, what do you have that's accessible to you, you know, for many people, you know, they don't have many friends for various reasons. So if sometimes it could be an internal issue. So for example, I get I'm not going to kind of discount perhaps being being let down by a friend before, you know, those are very common. And all of us remembering the all of us will have those moments, I think it was really important for us to know that friendships or relationships, they wax and wane, they are not always the same, they are very dynamic. And they should be dynamic. People connect and reconnect. So understanding and adjusting expectations are what friendships are, could actually help you develop more meaningful friendships. Some people have these really unrealistic expectation of well, they'll be my friend for high school, and it's always going to be like this, it's going to be x, y, and Zed. But actually, people change. And that's okay. It doesn't mean that it's a bad thing. It just means that it's okay to turn your attention to actually nurture a different friendship or relationship. So I think really, you know, adjusting your expectations, starting small for understanding loneliness is normal as part and parcel of our lives. What's really more important is that we don't sweep that under the rug, we actually tackle it a lot earlier. So it actually doesn't lead to poor health and well being down the down the track.Anthony Hartcher:
Oh, fantastic tips. They're really insightful. So thanks for sharing that. Michelle, in terms of the virtual connection and the face to face interaction, can you share? Like, there's obviously pros and cons to both? What have you found through your research as to what's more advantageous? Over the other night? It depends?Michelle Lim:
That's a very big, big question, Anthony. I think it's actually differs across the ages, as we know, you know, during the pandemic digital tools were really our only option because we didn't have vaccines, we didn't understand what was going on. So I would say I was very pleased that we have digital tools to connect safely while we try to get ourselves sorted in terms of the public health crisis. And as you know, many people have gone into a hybrid working model now. And and probably, it's likely that it's, it's here to stay because people understand that you can indeed work at home, not slack off. And I do like the flexibility. But I do think that a hybrid model of still having the face to face connection is really important, primarily because I think we can't really have good eye contact online. So I think especially for young people, I think it's really important that they have a good balance. They know how to interact with people face to face, but also they know, and that goes with being able to read emotions in your face and body language. Most of what we relay is in our hands and our face and our facial expressions, being able to get that information in person still very critical to our health. The technology allows us to connect much more efficiently to people who are much further away from us, you know, you know, for example, I don't know where you're located, but I'm pretty sure when we're not in the same state, but it's really important to kind of think about like, you know, if I didn't have this to our never met you, right, so that's an advantage to me, and didn't don't have this opportunity to do this work. And I think use them to your advantage to connect with people that you can't otherwise connect, it's to me, it's a huge advantage. But I still believe that the face to face is still very critical for so many various reasons, and we can still miss understand people. And also, for me, anyway, personally, I'm probably speaking for more of a personal experience here, when we have a cup of coffee with someone or we, you know, have that organic chat with people, you know, down the hall, that's when we actually have the most fun conversations and learn about each other a little bit more, it's a much more organic interaction. It's not that, you know, it's not that I don't like, you know, scheduling the time to do that. But the funniest moments in my life have come across, you know, bumping into people and telling them a funny story that happened, it just seems so organic. And that's what I miss, definitely from remote working. Personally, which I think that if you are, you know, someone who's who's healthy and understands what they want, we can build those things in. So you don't have to have a workplace that you go to everyday to experience that it could be it could be having those interactions in our community, you know, in other sorts of settings, so in for us to find different alternatives so that we can have those sorts of interactions is still very important. Do you think the metaverse or the augmented reality is going to find a good blend between the two. Perhaps I mean, we're not there yet. But I think what's really important as consumers of digital tools, we do have to demand that these tools are built to facilitate meaningful social connection. And people build things when there's a demand, you know, as I often kind of talk about the current social media tools that we have, they were all built, you know, because of demand, and there's a high use, but they're not always built to facilitate meaningful social connection. So if that's something that we want, whether it's true, you know, meta type technology, or you know, all the amazing technologies that are going to be available, available to us in the near future, how do we make those tools more conducive to us feeling a stronger sense of connection? That's really a question that I have. And I hope that, you know, as consumers, we would demand of people to to actually build better tools. Absolutely. And I can see it sort of helping that hybrid model work more effectively, and have more meaningful relationships in a hybrid model situation, obviously, it doesn't, as you say, It doesn't replace that face to face interaction. But if we're going to be doing the hybrid model, then I think that's going to be a nice, happy medium, I would have thought between the two. Yes, absolutely.Anthony Hartcher:
And just in terms of wrapping up the episode, really keen to, you know, for you to share, actually how the listeners can best reach out to you. For more insight. For more tips for more support in this area.Michelle Lim:
I think your listeners, if you're interested, please do go to our website, andendingloneliness.com.au And you'll notice there's lots of resources there. If you need assistance about also, we would love to hear from you about your experiences. And you know, if you think you could volunteer or contribute in some way, do reach on email us directly. And I often say, Anthony, that loneliness is a complex issue. You know, it's a global issue that that we know, now it affects all parts of the world, including low and middle income countries, but it's only through partnerships and collaboration with people with living living experience, that we can really combat this issue. That's why we really welcome listeners to really contact us to think about what you know what they can do to better inform our work, you know, we would like to hear what they want, for example, so we can develop the best tools for them. And we're very lucky to have robust partnerships now to support the work of either, for example, our partnerships with AIA, for example, is an example of what I call a transformative Partnership, which allows us to then do more work and to understand how we can actually address this this global public health priority. So I think that, you know, if there are opportunities out there for future partnerships and projects, or people just letting us know what they would like to see from us, I think we really welcome that because we can only combat chronic loneliness together. Absolutely. Michelle, and to the listeners, please connect with Michelle and give her feedback as to what you'd like in terms of services that could really help you overcome your loneliness. As Michelle said earlier on, it's very subjective. So if she gets a whole lot of data, and people are requesting this and put on this event, then you know, that's what I guess Michelle's organization will do so, really appreciate if you could get back to Michelle with your feedback. And stay tuned for more insightful episodes and me&my health up, there's more to come in the pipeline and we really thank you for joining us today Michelle. Great insight I've learned a lot and I'm sure the listeners have to thanks Anthony for having me.Anthony Hartcher:
You're welcome.PODCAST DISCLAIMER:
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