[Taps mic] This thing on?Just how far would you go to connect with other people? This is Alanis Morissette's 'Hand In MyPocket' and I'm sorry for what's about to happen.
Singing karaoke to a roomful ofstrangers, in an outback town, sober, may seem extreme but for this story I'vegotten way out of my comfort zone.
I've cuddled complete strangers, accostedlocals in the outback and tried to make friends with people I found on a website.
All of these to try and understand what experts have called our next big publichealth crisis.
So what have I learned? Well, loneliness kills.
You can die.
It's just as risky as physical inactivity smoking, alcohol or obesity.
We can callit a health crisis but let's call it a loneliness crisis.
Half of us feel lonely at least one day a week and one in four Australians feel lonely most of the time.
Even worse 1.
5 million people have been feeling lonely for a decade or more.
Iknow what you're thinking in a world where we're more connected than everwhy are so many people struggling with loneliness? Well, it turns out that thetype of people who suffer from loneliness might surprise you.
I don't think it's surprising at all.
I've gone to music events on my own, I'vegone to films on my own just to see who I can strike up a conversation with.
I dohave quite an intense profession working construction.
I've got lots of projectson the go constantly and it can be difficult to make plans outside of workhours.
Gemma is young, smart and successful and she's lived and worked all around the world.
I think with social media forexample Facebook it helps me to feel connected but I think within a citypeople need to go beyond those apps.
I find that if you rely on your workconnections often it doesn't eventuate into close friendships because theyalready have their own social circles.
You don't often think about how solidyour friendships are in that respect.
Professor Adrian Franklin is someonewho does think about that, a lot, in fact he's made career out of it- A lot of people think loneliness is not having lots of people in your life but actuallyloneliness is when people lack high-quality meaningful or strongrelationships and also whether they've lost a sense of belonging to something.
It could be their family it could be a workplace.
Are there common triggers forloneliness in people's lives? The 25-44 year old Australians we found that these were actually the most lonely groups of all why is that? Well, they arein and out of jobs constantly they're having to work very, very hard to pay fortheir very expensive Australian house with, the killer one which is high ratesof separation and divorce that's why they are the most lonely.
They're morelonely than the retired they're more lonely than the very old.
It turns out there are lots of women like Emma in Canberra trying to make meaningfulconnections and they're finding each other via a website called MeetUp.
– MeetUp is like a dating app but for friends These girls are pretty open about whythey're going online to find friends.
I has some friends from Sydney say you're a little bit lonely in Canberra, you don't have that many friends try MeetUp and see how you go.
I went on Google and asked Google how to make friends in Canberra I'm just searching for work so I don't havea friends for work yet for me it wasn't actually difficult I'm used to Tinder dating, I think – So from tinder to MeetUp it's pretty easy.
There are times where I still experienceloneliness in Canberra but I think the more distractions you have in life theless time you have to feel lonely so things like moving to a new place, working a lot and relying on social media is making us lonely but the womanI'm about to meet says the connection we're missing isn't just social it'salso physical.
Every day you are touch deprived is another day on your back you know, you become more shy and more distant from other people.
– Jasmina is a professional cuddler which is the thing that until today I had no idea existed.
– The cuddle party is very interesting thing.
It's completely platonic and thatis not a kind of hook up party it is just to learn and explore touch of otherperson.
Jasmina says she gets clients of all ages and backgrounds coming to a cuddle party.
They can be people working for government, they canbe musicians, can be teachers police force.
How many of your clients would you sayare quite lonely? I would say all of them.
You just suddenly you sit back and youreflect on your life and you think well I used to be happier at another time assomeone who is a father and then all of a sudden they grow up you know andsuddenly like you're not getting cuddles I've been kind of torturing myself byisolating myself, not giving myself what I need and I need need what these guysare having.
So in case you're wondering there are rulesat a cuddle party, one of which stood out.
So I noticed that rule number eight isrelax and don't worry if you get turned on can you explain this rule to me it'snormal that those things are happening if they were not I would be worriedactually so if it happens the story is we justdon't act on it you know and it will go.
Well with that sorted I was ready to give it a try.
Okay I'm coming.
I have to admit at the start it wasthis awkward as I imagined it would be pretty soon I was getting into it a lot.
– I think in general life often I am terrified and quite anxious but there isa reassuring aspect to being touched by people and to having people respond toyour touch.
Look I might not make cuddle parties a regular part of my weekend but I did make a few friends.
Thanks guys, bye.
So far, Jasmina and the cuddlers, Gemmaand the MeetUp girls they're all very proactive about staving off lonelinessbut what about when loneliness becomes so crippling you can't even leave thehouse I didn't speak to anyone for over a weekat one stage.
I wasn't leaving the house at all though I got to the point where Iwas nearly talking to myself.
For two years the only time Alan would leave thehouse was to buy groceries and check the mail but his life wasn't always likethis.
When his grandpa fell sick a few years ago, Alan moved states leaving his son, job and friends behind to become a live-in carer.
-He passed away in his sleep.
I was devastated just like he was like themain person in my family that really cared and that's why I came across thecountry to help look after him.
– So at that point who did you have to look out for you – Pretty much myself I thought I've got big shoulders up taking a lot overmy life my time so and I can handle this but I just couldn't do you don't want tobe seen as being a softy.
Australian men in our survey we askedthem what did they do when they became seriously lonely and we gave them a listof things.
Go to see your GP, talk to your family, there was about 10 items on thelist.
Almost no Australian man ticked any of them.
Australian women ticked most ofthem.
When people were seriously lonely it was like they were locked out oftheir own lives they felt that they've become invisibleno one saw them anymore and they start to withdraw they start to get depressedand they start to become sick.
I got, really weak suffered bad headaches, Iwent for about three days without no sleep.
They diagnosed me with anxiety and depression.
– So people say that if you're feeling lonely or isolated thatyou've got to just get out and go and meet people?- It doesn't work like that, doesn't work like that at all.
They hear that so often they get so fed up withhearing it because it's much deeper and more complicated than that it's not aseasy just to go out and meet new people and sit down and talk to people you justdon't I just didn't feel like doing anything.
Alan's story is pretty heartbreaking and all the solutions I've looked at sofar cuddle parties or online friend finders won't really work with someonewho can't even leave the house.
So is there something that could hello.
Laura Rowland runs friend line a national volunteer runhotline for lonely people looking for someone, anyone to talk towe're not counseling people we're not giving advice we're not trainedpsychologists, although some people have a background in psychology andcounseling we're literally just a conversation so kind of think about itas have a cuppa and a chat.
Laura has arranged for me to talk to one of their regular callers.
Hi David it's Laura here how're you going? Tell me a little bitabout yourself? Okay now I live in St Kilda.
David is a computer programmer butlately his health has made working impossible.
Also he has Asperger's whichhe says means it's hard for him to make and keep friends.
What's the the mostkind of lonely that you have felt? Well, you know, very lonely.
Especially around holiday time.
1 in 4 Australians are lonely so somebodywe know.
Over 70% of people said it's difficult to admit to being lonely so weknow there's a huge stigma around it as well.
FriendLine gets dozens of calls anight from all around the country and whilst the vast majority of Australianslive in major cities Laura says about half of their calls are from regionalareas.
So I've come to Outback New South Wales to find out why so many people hereare lonely.
There's 18, 000 people living in Broken Hill which is about 250 timesless than Melbourne or Sydney.
So does living in a smaller community make usfeel closer and therefore less lonely? It's a great community yeah I guessbecause it's so small everybody knows everybody.
– Everyone seems to know everyone but I feel like if you're on the outside then you can be quite lonely.
– Just so isolated in a lot of areas you haven't got a licence or yeah way of getting aroundaround you of course.
There's a few lonely people.
there's a lot of people whoreally like that there I'm sort of lonely myself.
I was by myself for about18 or so months and was extremely lonely.
It's a situation Allen knows all toowell Broken Hill is his adopted hometown.
– Well they say in a small town everyone knows each other then everyone helps eachother that's wrong.
I do think it is easier for people to slip through the cracks in smaller towns.
A few years ago Jenna realised that loneliness was driving people and Broken Hill to utter desperation.
They were presenting to thehospital especially after hours and weekends.
That's a really sad thing to think that When people are lonely they'representing to a hospital emergency room.
When I was really lonely I'd go to thehospital and I would stay there for six weeks and then come home and it's justyour head is filled with so much stuff that you have to release it.
After divorcing his partner Jason had abreakdown.
He moved to Broken Hill for a fresh start but found himself completelyalone.
When I came here to Broken Hill I was diagnosed with bipolar.
A good 10-11 years I've felt that I've had nothing.
What saved Jason from completeisolation was meeting Alan.
He was sort of a the person who's withdrawn too buthe's come out of his shell quite a fair bit since he's been at this program it'samazing how much people of people have come out of their shells.
They met at a group called connections setup specifically for lonely people in town Tt's a free program run by MissionAustralia and New South Wales Health it gets people out of the house andinteracting with the world So I go to pretty much every connectionsgroup that's running.
I'd say me anxieties a lot better than what it wasbefore I went to Connections.
Loneliness can be linked to the early onset ofmental health issues.
I believe addressing loneliness is an early intervention strategy into reducing mental health in Australia.
We do need to look after the individual.
You need to help them but there's something that Ithink governments should be doing.
We're not doing anywhere near as much as somecountries Britain well it's got six million people who have got loneliness as aproblem they've now got a minister with a minister's portfolio.
– A minister for loneliness would be fantastic I think there has to be a top-down as wellas a bottom-up approach as well so national leadership.
Until that national leadership arrivesJenna and her team are making pretty big strides.
The head of mental health at thelocal hospital says that some Connections clients have reduced theirtime at the hospital by 65 percent in just six months.
So it's not enough toprove that it cures loneliness but I think it does show that when people areengaged in meaningful activity and connections with other people that it isreally good for their own mental health We do activities such as going out forlunch, going to art galleries, art lessons poetry nights, karaoke.
A few months ago getting up and singing in front of people would have been unimaginable for Alan.
– Have you sung karaoke before?- Oh no no I'm a bit nervous about the karaoke but I think I'll get up and giveit a go.
I don't really know yourself now I've changed radically, drastically.
– I smile a lot more I talk a lot more.
Being here with these guys to me these guys are family and and I love that aboutthem.
Which brings us back to this moment.
I'mbroke but I'm happy, I'm poor but I'm kind I'm short but I'm healthy yeah.
If this journey has taught me anything it's that turning this loneliness crisisaround is going to take a lot of work as individuals, as communities and as acountry it's work we have to do.