THE LONELY OLD guy sitting in a bar nursing a beer is a pretty tired trope. It might not be an entirely accurate one, either. New research by men’s health organisation Healthy Male has found that men experiencing loneliness today are more likely to be younger.
According to the organisation’s findings, 43 per cent of Australian men are lonely, with those in middle age suffering the most from social isolation.
“The research showed us that there’s been a lot of focus around older men being lonely but actually it’s the 35 to 49 year age cohort that are showing high levels of loneliness,” says Simon von Saldern, CEO of Healthy Male.
Von Saldern believes middle-aged men could be particularly susceptible to loneliness due to a tendency to offload social commitments to their wives and partners. Then, if their romantic relationship goes south, they lack the tools to foster new connections, he says.
“Guys get left without skills to do this and they feel odd doing it.”
Long hours at work, particularly after the birth of a child, could also contribute to men feeling isolated. “If you’re in a relationship but you’ve just had a child, your partner’s really occupied in that area and you’ve got your career,” says Von Saldern, noting that it’s often the partner who earns the most who returns to work first, regardless of a couple’s actual preferences.
Due to the gender pay gap, that’s invariably men, he points out.
Traditional masculine attitudes, such as an unwillingness to show weakness or vulnerability often stop men from being proactive in seeking out new friendships and in reaching out for support. Many lonely men are loath to admit it, says von Saldern. “Men find admitting to being lonely actually more confronting than admitting to having mental health issues,” he says.
Lack of social connection has some serious health ramifications. A study in Plos Medicine found lacking connection can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable to daily smoking. Similarly, a study published in the journal Heart found poor social relationships, social isolation and loneliness can increase risk of heart disease by 29 per cent and risk of stroke by 32 per cent.
And this isn’t just an issue affecting Australians. Both Japan and the UK have identified loneliness as a big issue facing men, with appointments of a Minister for Loneliness in the UK and Minister for Loneliness and Isolation in Japan. Given these new statistics, it might be time Australia does the same.
Von Saldern’s advice for men experiencing loneliness is to reach out and see what happens. You’ll probably be surprised. “If you don’t know what to do and how to do it, look at some of the great groups that are around,” he advises. “There’s a thing called Men’s Table, or there’s the Tough Guy’s Book Club. There’s a raft of things out there where all you’ve got to do is commit yourself to turning up.
“Because guess what? The other blokes who are there started out like you.”
Ben Jhoty covers sport and wellness for Esquire Australia.
Related: What is biphasic sleep?