There are limits to loneliness

Politics for happiness : Does Germany need a loneliness ministry?

Almost two years ago, the founding of the world's first Department for Loneliness in Great Britain may have made some people smile. Today, in the middle of the corona crisis, it looks as if the British had taken a look into the crystal ball to take this step.

Because loneliness is undoubtedly one of the worst side effects of the pandemic. It did not develop through Corona, but it emerges more clearly during this time. In people who already felt alone, the feeling was heightened. Sick and old people are particularly affected, who have to endure loneliness in hospital beds, old people's and nursing homes and in quarantine. And the feeling of being alone caught those who did not know it before.

Fight against loneliness

Theresa May justified the step to the political fight against loneliness in January 2018 with the "sad reality of modern life", which affects millions of people. A survey by the Red Cross had shown that more than nine million of the almost 66 million British people always or often felt lonely.

With the new ministry, May wanted above all to help seniors and their caring relatives, as well as people who mourn the loss of someone close to them. It is about "people who have no one to talk to or to share their thoughts and experiences," said the head of government at the time.

With the loneliness ministry, May also wanted to keep the memory of the murdered Labor politician Jo Cox alive. The 41-year-old MP, who wanted to help lonely people through her political actions, was killed on the street in Birstall, Northern England, in mid-June 2016. Cox had campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU. The right-wing attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Younger people in particular felt lonely

The Tory politician Tracey Crouch was appointed the first female loneliness minister in 2018, and the staff carousel has turned three times since then. Baroness Diana Barran, who is also Minister for Civil Society, is currently in charge. In difficult times like now, your ministry is booming.

Barran says that she can also take positive out of the corona crisis: "The optimist in me would say that Covid brought loneliness to the public. In the past you might have thought, well, others are lonely. But during the pandemic, many people felt vulnerable and lonely. We have seen it ourselves in the last few months, ”she told Deutschlandfunk.

Barran recently announced a £ 5 million commitment to help specific groups such as blind people and young mothers. In fact, a study by the polling institute Populist found that during the first lockdown in the spring, younger people were more likely to feel lonely in their mid-40s than older people.

Lessons from the Corona year

For the near future, Barran has three points: She wants to remove the stigma that comes with loneliness. The ministry has already campaigned on social media to convey that it's okay to be alone. The government is also trying to bring people together by creating interest groups at the local level.

In response to the pandemic, Barran has also set up a network that includes companies, associations and charities. The aim is to learn lessons from the Corona year 2020 in order to be able to act even more effectively against loneliness in the future.

The Family Ministry in Germany also states that the intensive testing of measures, strategies and concepts in the fight against loneliness will play a more central role in the future than before the pandemic. Whether a position in the form of a loneliness officer would be helpful cannot yet be assessed; in particular, it has been shown that measures against loneliness are primarily the responsibility of the federal states and municipalities.

Solitude as a Government Issue

"The various causes of loneliness must first be addressed, such as creating opportunities for participation and establishing new access routes to particularly vulnerable groups," says a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Family Affairs. “We don't need a new loneliness ministry in Germany like in England, but we have to make loneliness a government issue,” writes futurologist Horst Opaschowski in his book “Die semiglückliche Gesellschaft”.

He can imagine a loneliness officer who develops strategies and concepts that “prevent loneliness in all age groups and combat loneliness”. Politicians, especially local politics, should promote voluntary hotlines, helper exchanges and social networks and support crisis services. The boundaries between loneliness and mental illness are blurred. Loneliness and depression also occur in adolescence. Suicides are the second most common cause of death in adolescence after traffic accidents.

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