The Great Get Together

We Know the Cure for Loneliness. So Why Do We Suffer?

Opinion by Nicholas Kristof for New York Times
September 6, 2023

Loneliness crushes the soul, but researchers are finding it does far more damage than that. It is linked to strokes, heart disease, dementia, inflammation and suicide; it breaks the heart literally as well as figuratively.

Loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more lethal than consuming six alcoholic drinks a day, according to the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Loneliness is more dangerous for health than obesity, he says — and, alas, we have been growing more lonely. A majority of Americans now report experiencing loneliness, based on a widely used scale that asks questions such as whether people lack companionship or feel left out.

Yet there are solutions as well, approaches that build connections and bind us together. Britain is the pioneer of these efforts, having established the post of minister for loneliness in 2018. Britain oversees public-private partnerships that collectively knit millions of people together with programs like nature walks, songwriting workshops and community litter pickups.

Britain’s anti-loneliness efforts revved up in June, with Loneliness Awareness Week and “Great Get-Together” events across the country to coincide with the birthday of a British member of Parliament and friend of mine, Jo Cox, who helped lead efforts to address loneliness before she was murdered in 2016. Programs ranged from poetry workshops to book discussions and litter pickups, followed by a free drink at the pub.

London, United Kingdom, June 24, 2023: Helena Francis Kennedy, a resident of Barking, is attending the Great Get Together at the local Studio 3 Arts. She was born in Cork, Ireland, and moved to London in 1957. She has two children, six grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren.

London, United Kingdom, June 24, 2023: Yusuf's cast, signed by his friends. Yusuf is an avid football player. During one practice, he fractured his wrist after one of the teammates accidentaly kicked his hand.

London, United Kingdom, June 24, 2023: A view of Station Parade in Barking, a borough of east London.

London, United Kingdom, June 24, 2023: Local residents outside Studio 3 Arts building, a community arts centre based in Barking. Studio 3 Arts was established in 1987 and it provides a safe haven for local children.