The European Union's new pilot project on loneliness aims to monitor and tackle increasing lack of "meaningful social interactions".
At least one in 10 European Union residents is lonely most of the time, a new report on loneliness commissioned by the European Commission has shown.
Some 13 per cent of the EU residents responded feeling lonely most or all of the time in the first EU-wide loneliness survey comprising 25,000 people.
The project was conducted to get an overview of the "epidemic of loneliness" caused due to prolonged lockdowns and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, loneliness is most prevalent in Ireland with approximately 20 per cent reporting feeling lonely.
The lowest levels of loneliness were observed in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Austria with less than 10 per cent of the surveyed sample.
People who are lonely all or most of the time, according to the report, are about 20 percentage points more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms.
"Loneliness is not just a private and individual issue," the report said.
"It may impede social cohesion and should be regarded as a social problem and addressed as such".
Keys to preventing loneliness
Cultural factors play a significant role in loneliness, the report noted, in addition to the events in one's life.
"Favourable economic situations, as well as the quantity and quality of social interactions, are key when it comes to preventing loneliness," the report added.
Intense social media use was also associated with increased loneliness and online sites "lack the intimacy and quality of offline interactions".
Loneliness among young respondents was higher than the older ones as major life events have the tendency to disrupt social networks and make anyone susceptible to feeling alone, it said.
The report, however, acknowledged that the consequence of loneliness varies by age and in no way can loneliness among older adults be ignored.
Global surveys in recent years have pointed out European countries like Italy as having some of the highest rates of old age loneliness.
A major challenge in tackling the loneliness problem stems from social stigma and unawareness, the report said, adding 57 per cent of respondents were not aware of the existence of intervention methods and policies.