Japan has appointed a 'Minister of Loneliness.' Australia needs one too.

Content warning: this article deals with the topic of suicide and might be confronting for some readers.

Loneliness - it's something we all experience, but for some, it can be deadly. 

Recently, Japan appointed a 'Minister of Loneliness' whose sole job is to try and reduce loneliness and social isolation among the Japanese population.

It comes following a series of reports that suggested Japan had a big loneliness issue on its hands.

Watch: the loneliness epidemic explained. Post continues below.

Video via 60 Minutes.

A government study showed that over a million people in the country had withdrawn from society, leading reclusive lives largely confined within the walls of their home. There's even a Japanese word to describe both the social phenomenon and reclusive people themselves - hikikomori, also known as severe social withdrawal. 

Coupled with this was the 2020 finding that suicide rates in Japan had risen. It was the first time this had occurred in 11 years, with rates among Japanese women taking their lives surging nearly 15 per cent. 

With this information in hand, Japan's Prime Minister decided to enact the Minister of Loneliness. 


It comes after the United Kingdom appointed its own Loneliness Minister in 2018 after a 2017 report found that over nine million British people said they often or always felt lonely.

Tracey Crouch subsequently became the world's first Loneliness Minister. She recounted in an interview that when appointed, a lot of people came forward to her to express their gratitude.

"People said: 'I have felt enormously lonely, but I've been too afraid to say it'. That shows that we should be talking about loneliness and we shouldn't be ashamed. What we should be ashamed of is if we don't have a framework around them to support them," Minister Crouch noted.

So for years now, Loneliness Ministers in the UK and Japan have been trying to make a change. 

But what about Australia?

Loneliness in Australia: an epidemic.

This week a new report has been released, confirming all our concerns about feelings of social isolation among Aussies.

The first State of the Nation Report into social connection - from Ending Loneliness Together - found that one in six people report feeling severely lonely. 

Perhaps the most surprising takeaway from the report was the finding that the loneliest demographics tend to skew younger.

Often we've heard from previous reports that it's our older generations that are struggling with disconnection the most. And although that likely still rings true, the new research tells us that younger Aussies aren't fairing any better.


It's ironic considering those aged 18 to 24 - who are rated as among the loneliest people - are the most digitally connected generation.

"Some of these age groups are not necessarily people who are socially isolated; they are very much well embedded within our communities and society," Dr Michelle Lim told ABC.

"But they still feel or complain quite frequently about feeling lonely. In terms of how social media plays a role, it's not very much about frequency, but about how we actually use social media itself," said Dr Lim, who heads the coalition of research organisations involved in the report. 

When it comes to suicide rates nationwide, they remain incredibly confronting. Not all suicide deaths are related to feelings of loneliness, but disconnection and social isolation do play a very large contributing factor. 

Approximately eight Australians die by suicide every day. 

Suicide is the leading cause of death between the ages of 15 and 44, the suicide rate among First Nations people is twice that of their non-Indigenous counterparts, and other groups that are at a higher risk include those in regional communities, men and LGBTQIA+ people.

They're sobering statistics, but numbers that remind us why more action needs to be taken and support given to those most vulnerable in society. 

So why doesn't Australia have a Loneliness Minister?

Currently, there remains no official Loneliness Minister in Australia.


We do however have an Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and her name is Minister Emma McBride. 

Recently we have seen more funding in this space, last week $8 million was invested into new related research projects. Although more research into this pertinent issue is welcomed news, in the meantime, millions of Aussies are still feeling lonely - and that can have drastic consequences. 

Our politicians know the statistics. 

It's been a highly publicised topic of conversation since 2019 when research found that prolonged isolation had been estimated to shorten life span by 15 years. It was also found to be equivalent in impact "to smoking 15 cigarettes per day".

Ultimately, there isn't one simple band-aid solution to 'fixing' feelings of loneliness and isolation among Australians. But the more monetary and tangible investment into addressing the epidemic - the better. 

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For children and young adults, Kids Helpline is available on 1800 551 800.

Feature Image: Getty.

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