SYDNEY, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Researchers from the University of Sydney have charted loneliness levels across the globe over the last two decades, finding that "problematic" levels of loneliness were more prevalent in some countries than others.
The systematic review, published in the BMJ medical journal on Thursday, compared data from 57 observational studies from some 113 countries or territories between 2000 and 2019.
Senior author on the project and Associate Professor Melody Ding from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney told Xinhua the lowest prevalence of loneliness was seen in countries in northern Europe -- many posting rates of loneliness between 2 and 4 percent.
"Scandinavian countries tend to consistently report low levels of loneliness," said Ding.
She said that while loneliness is beginning to take more of a spotlight in Australia, there still needs to be more comprehensive data to accurately compare Australia to other countries.
The 2018 Australian Loneliness Report from the Australian Psychological Society said that one in four Australians reported feeling loneliness for three or more days in a week. The study found the same cohort is more likely to be depressed and anxious about social interactions.
Ding said that this data highlights the importance that loneliness is treated in Australia, and around the world, as a public health problem like any other.
"I think it's very important that we advocate for standardized long-term data collection of loneliness similarly to how we track Australians' height and weight, smoking, drinking, and diet."
While the data collection stopped before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the research is expected to provide a baseline for levels of loneliness that future studies will be able to build on.
"We anticipate that COVID-19 and associated public health restrictions increased isolation for many people across the globe so this review will provide important baseline data for researchers to assess the impact of the pandemic on loneliness moving forward," said lead author and University of Sydney PhD student Daniel Surkalim.
Ding said it is important to take a multi-pronged approach to dealing with loneliness, and that a lot can be learnt from countries that have displayed lower levels of loneliness.
"Having access to (mental health) resources is very important, but it shouldn't be the sole solution. The public health approach really looks at multiple levels: from society, from community, from the economic system, and including the individual as well," she said. ■