Social connection is good for everyone’s health. The evidence that having high-quality relationships and feeling socially connected to the people in your life reduces your risk of death and disease is well established.
Being socially connected has been found to be associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death. Conversely, lacking social connections is as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. While lack of social connection can affect both men and women, research shows that Australian men endure serious loneliness for longer periods than women and are less able to deal with loneliness.
In particular, separated men and single fathers experience less social support, are less likely to have friends to confide in, and are less likely to have a say in family matters. More generally, men have been found to have smaller social networks than women, less access to informal support through friendships and family relationships, and lower levels of social contact and social support.
In Australia, 25.3 per cent of men report poor social networks compared with 21.5 per cent of women. Men have lower levels of social support than women from early adulthood until their seventies, with the lowest level of social support experienced by men aged 35 to 44.
While around one in four men of working age have poor social connectedness, there are some groups of men at higher risk including:
- Men living on their own (37%)
- Unemployed men looking for work (39%)
- Male students (42%)
- Unemployed men looking for work (45%)
- Men on a disability pension (47%)
Lack of social connection is linked to poor physical health and poor mental health. For example, men with low levels of social support are three times more likely to experience high levels of psychological distress than men with strong social supports (42% versus 13%).
As a general rule, social connection is not recognised as being a public health issue that requires government intervention. One of the exceptions to this rule is the Men’s Shed movement, which has been particularly effective at engaging with socially isolated older men in rural and remote communities.
Yet lack of social connection is not just a problem for the elderly, it can affect people at any stage of life with men at higher risk of social isolation than women. For this reason, it is essential that we increase awareness of the benefits of social connection and take action to identify and promote ways to tackle social isolation, particularly among men.
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