Loneliness Is Killing You | KCUR

Loneliness Is Killing You

“Loneliness Is Killing You” is a five-part series on the health effects of loneliness and social isolation. As part of an Association of Health Care Journalists International Health Study Fellowship, KCUR reporter Alex Smith traveled to the United Kingdom to see how that nation is addressing the problem and what lessons the United States can learn from it. This reporting was made possible in part by a fellowship sponsored by the Association of Health Care Journalists and supported by The Commonwealth Fund. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

There’s a do-it-yourself movement that’s been spreading across the United Kingdom, but it’s not led by artisan hipsters or first-time homeowners.

It’s part of the country’s nationwide campaign to address loneliness, and experts think it may hold some important clues for fixing a tricky and potentially life-threatening problem.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

As experts in the Midwest and around the world work to address loneliness, one tricky question keeps popping up: even if loneliness is bad for our physical and mental health, what if people just don’t want to be social?

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

To a lot of people in the U.S., the idea of a government loneliness program sounds like something out of a free-spending European dreamland, like locally sourced organic school lunches in Italy or months of paid paternity leave in Sweden.

Nice, if you don’t mind high taxes.

But in the United Kingdom, just such a campaign was introduced by a Conservative British prime minister whose government has been scaling back public spending for years, and that’s led critics to call loneliness a self-inflicted wound.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Hundreds of young German football fans in blue jerseys dance and sing in the streets before a soccer match in Manchester, England.  

This rainy northwestern city is the third largest in the United Kingdom. Known for its music scene and soccer, it’s a city brimming with young people .

But for many of those young people, like 17-year-old Lee Smelhurst-Hudson, life in Greater Manchester can be tough.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In the heart of London, at Buckingham Palace, the daily changing of the guard reminds crowds of tourists that the United Kingdom is a country with staying power.

Over the centuries, the British have fought off famine, plague, economic depression and the Nazis. More recently, a few blocks away at Ten Downing Street, Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to take on a new threat to the lives of Britons.