The use of social media has increased dramatically over the last few years. Ironically, this rise in social interaction online corresponds with reported increases in loneliness, particularly among the younger population. In October 2013 statistics stood at 500 Million people owning a Facebook account and half of those users accessed their account on a daily basis. Although Facebook remains the leading platform, other social media services are also seeing an increased userbase. In this age of instant communication, with thoughts and emotions presented to the world with just the tap of a screen, why is it that loneliness is becoming an increasing issue in the lives of many people living in Great Britain?

Studies have shown that […] Britons are [un]likely to know their neighbours or share close relationships…

The conversation surrounding loneliness most often refers to older generations struggling when no longer surrounded by work colleagues or when living alone. It seems strange then that new reports are citing loneliness as increasing in those of working age and younger. The charity Relate has found that over four in ten working people feel as though they do not have any close friends at work. When this is placed in relation to the fact that over a third of parents do not see their children on a daily basis, often due to work, the relationships that people need in order to prevent loneliness are not being nurtured. One of the reasons Relate gave for the lack of close friendships within the work place is the influence of emails and mobile phones. The benefits of communication through emails in the work place are many, from time saving to retaining records of conversations, yet if not being provided with the face to face social interaction they need surely there are long term negative impacts on the mental well-being of employees.

If communications have increased dramatically online what is it that has changed in order for loneliness to become more prevalent? Social media can often provide the appearance that communications via instant messaging are just as fulfilling and healthy as speaking directly to someone in person. Unfortunately it is easy to put up a front when online, presenting to the world a personality desired rather than the one present in person. Genuine heartfelt conversations do not have the same impact over the internet as they do when engaged on a face to face basis. Physical interaction is slowly being replaced by the influence of social media which in years to come could have a detrimental effect on our health. Although not widely recognized, it has been posited that low social interaction could have similar effects on human health and lifespan as lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption or smoking.

When […] over a third of parents do not see their children on a daily basis […] relationships that people need in order to prevent loneliness are not being nurtured

Studies have shown that on the whole Britons are less likely to know their neighbours or share close relationships with them than any other country in the European Union. Perhaps we could learn from the lifestyle of past generations who lived as part of a community, sharing challenges and celebrations with one another with events such as street parties and other such celebration bringin communities together. Times have changed, society has advanced and social media is not going to suddenly disappear; for some people who have difficulty going out and actually meeting people, this form of communication is an important factor in retaining existing relationships and (potentially) building new ones. But it is important to acknowledge the fact that social media interaction should not be used as a substitute for physical interaction. It is fundamentally healthier to take the time to build up personal relationships rather than basing the idea of social interaction solely on the number of followers one might have on Twitter.

Image rights; Carmen Lucas