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Introduction

This report presents the results of the third survey in a series that examines the levels of social isolation and loneliness for people accessing the Relationships Australia website.

We have previously discussed the research evidence that clearly establishes the importance of social connection to overall wellbeing.  The negative effects of social isolation were first identified in the 1970s, including by the World Health Organisation in 1979 and in a range of studies since this time, loneliness has been associated with a range of poor mental, physical and socio‑economic outcomes, including low self-esteem, suicide, depression, heart disease and poor physical health.

While there is no clear understanding of how social isolation impacts on health, we know that the existence of this relationship has important implications for both policy and practice.  The work of Brummett (2001), for example, established the importance of ensuring that individuals have meaningful social ties with at least one or a few other individuals, and this is especially true for people whose health is already compromised by significant morbidity.  It does not seem that any particular type of relationship is crucial and as long as a person has regular interaction with a spouse, extended family or friends, the risk of social isolation negatively impacting their health is minimised.  It also seems that there is little additional health benefit associated with adding extra social connections for well-connected individuals.

This month’s online survey employs the Lubben Social Network Scale, a 6-question instrument designed to gauge social isolation by measuring perceived social support received by family and friends (Lubben et al. 2006).   The Scale identifies individuals with a score of less than 12 as socially isolated which implies that, on average, a person can identify fewer than two individuals for each of the six aspects of the social networks assessed.  Furthermore, those people with scores of less than 6 on the three-item family subscale are considered to have marginal family ties and those with scores of less than 6 on the three-item friends subscale are considered to have marginal friendship ties.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites