Many of us remember the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks, which was a satirical play on British politics. Prime Minister Theresa May has set up a Ministry of Loneliness to combat this serious issue that inflicts 9 million UK citizens.

The question of whether this issue demands a separate ministry or should be placed under another ministry is debatable, the issue of loneliness comes with the rise in population and the change in demographics. The committee for Loneliness was set up by MP Jo Cox based on his experiences. The ministry will be headed by Tracey Crouch, out of respect to Jo Cox who was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016. Crouch stated that “This is an issue that Jo cared passionately about, and we will honor her memory by tackling it, helping the millions of people across the UK who suffer from loneliness,” Crouch said in a statement.

May told press that “Loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” and added that “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

Loneliness has been researched, and one study that covered 45,000 participants aged over 45 years showed elevated signs of suffering from heart disease. Loneliness affects a person’s habits; it lowers the desire to exercise, to eat properly and to work. It increases anxiety and depression, leading to higher suicide rates.

Whether a correlation exists between Internet usage and loneliness is a subject of controversy, with some findings showing that Internet users are lonelier, and others showing that lonely people who use the Internet to keep in touch with loved ones (especially seniors) report less loneliness, but that those trying to make friends online became lonelier. Source: Sum, Shima; Mathews, R. Mark; Hughes, Ian; Campbell, Andrew (2008). “Internet Use and Loneliness in Older Adults.” CyberPsychology & Behavior. 11 (2): 208–11.

Loneliness is not a simple statement; there is a clear distinction between feeling lonely and being socially isolated. While solitude is simply the lack of contact with people. Loneliness is, therefore, a subjective experience; if a person thinks they are lonely, then they are lonely. People can be lonely while in solitude, or in the middle of a crowd. What makes a person lonely is the fact that they need more social interaction or a certain type of social interaction that is not currently available. A person can be in the middle of a party and feel lonely due to not talking to enough people. Conversely, one can be alone and not feel lonely; even though there is no one around that person is not lonely because there is no desire for social interaction. Source: Peplau, L.A.; Perlman, D. (1982). “Perspectives on loneliness.” In Peplau, Letitia Anne; Perlman, Daniel. Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research, and therapy. New York: John Wiley and Sons. pp. 1–18.

Loneliness appears to have intensified in every society in the world as modernization occurs. Within developed nations, loneliness has shown the largest increases among two groups: seniors, and people living in low-density suburbs.

While loneliness leads to depression and other mental illnesses, it also affects physical well-being. Since loneliness is a health issue, dealing with it is on a personal level is effective for an individual, but on a national level, this is ineffective. The real way to deal with loneliness is through preventative measures, and these are social, not medical. This is what May’s decision is a bold one and could lead to some interesting changes in the British social infrastructure that will affect more than 9 million; it will affect the whole population.