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Worrying epidemic sweeping across Australia at an alarming rate

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A campaign to combat Australia's loneliness epidemic is encouraging people to engage in at least 60 minutes of face-to-face social interactions every day.

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A campaign to combat Australia’s loneliness epidemic is encouraging people to engage in at least 60 minutes of face-to-face social interactions every day.

An epidemic sweeping Australia is targeting young people, can be as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is increasing the risk of premature death.

It’s not a plague or a virus, but rather loneliness, and experts say it’s exacerbated by a lack of face-to-face social interaction.

A 2023 State of the Nation report found that almost one in three Australians feel lonely.

Despite being more technologically savvy than other generations, 18- to 24-year-olds reported feeling more disconnected.

A campaign to combat Australia's loneliness epidemic is encouraging people to engage in at least 60 minutes of face-to-face social interactions every day.

A campaign to combat Australia’s loneliness epidemic is encouraging people to engage in at least 60 minutes of face-to-face social interactions every day.

Neuroscience expert Fiona Kerr said the assumption that those who were more digitally connected would be less affected by loneliness was incorrect.

“When you are physically present with another person, the chemical interaction between brains is much more effective and cannot be replicated by technology,” Dr Kerr told AAP.

“We all have this very complex technology in our hands that feels really intimate but actually prevents us from taking the time to go talk to someone in person.

“That’s having an impact on how alone we feel.”

Research by non-profit community organization Wayside Chapel found that more than 70 per cent of Australians averaged less than 60 minutes of face-to-face social contact per day.

Nearly 20 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed nationally said they did not have regular face-to-face interactions.

In response, Wayside Chapel launched a campaign to encourage people to connect in person.

Like health guidelines that encourage 10,000 steps and five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the campaign advocates adding ‘Social60’ to people’s routines: 60 minutes of meaningful social interaction each day.

Nearly 20 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed nationally said they did not have regular face-to-face interactions.

Nearly 20 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed nationally said they did not have regular face-to-face interactions.

Nearly 20 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed nationally said they did not have regular face-to-face interactions.

Dr Kerr said the pandemic prevented people from interacting with each other and the mental health impacts were significant.

But the biggest challenge that allowed loneliness to prevail was social stigma.

“One of the main problems is that people don’t talk about it… 50 per cent of people who are lonely actively hide it,” he said.

“As a society, we don’t really like to be able to talk about the feeling of loneliness and that is also something that needs to change.”

The good news is that each individual already has the means to address the loneliness epidemic, Dr. Kerr added.

“Human beings are wonderfully built to connect with each other,” he said.

“The simple act of chatting in line at a coffee shop gives us an electrochemical infusion that reduces our feelings of emotional and social loneliness, so we can recharge during the day, as long as we don’t have our nose buried in the phone.

“The message is: you need to get out there and engage, you need to look up, smile and wave, and Social60 is meant to be a sign to remind you to make it a habit to connect with another person.”

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