All the lonely people, Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, Where do they all belong?

The words - from the Beatles' 1966 song Eleanor Rigby - are some of the most recognisable and poignant to be written on the subject of loneliness.

When thinking of those most afflicted, the stereotype that readily comes to mind is of a person elderly and infirm, living alone, and cut off from family and friends.

These will be people who don't want to make a fuss, don't want to burden their families - or even social service agencies there to provide support. These are people who have experienced hard times, war and post-war recession, who are used to doing it tough, would not dream of complaining.


Yet companionship, comfort and communication are basic human needs.

The Beatles' song might well have also asked "where do they all go to?" in order to find support.

For some older men, it appears they are seeking the paid comfort of strangers. It was recently reported that more lonely older men were turning to prostitutes - not for sex, but for cuddles and a chat. The Prostitutes Collective said it appeared the numbers of Baby Boomers seeking that form of simple comfort were increasing.

Younger New Zealanders, too, appear increasingly lonely and vulnerable, as more studies and our appalling youth suicide statistics show.

How can this be in an age when we have supposedly never been more "connected"?

The internet and range of digital devices have allowed us to communicate freely and easily, at any time to people anywhere. Whether we are school kids or office workers, stay-at-home parents or retirees, we have multiple ways in which to "talk" with others.

Such technology, combined with cheaper easier air travel, means the world has got "smaller". Yet it also means families are more split than ever. Children grow up and travel, often settling and bringing up their families elsewhere. Other traditional forms of networking and support, such as the Church, are dwindling in Western culture. Everyday interactions are drying up. The postie or milkman rarely or never call any more, groceries can be ordered online, bank branches and tellers have been largely replaced by ATMs. Meaningful physical human interaction is getting lost.

Acknowledging the extent of the problem, the British Government has just appointed an Orwellian-sounding "Minister for Loneliness" to tackle the issue of isolation, a sobering admission of the failings of our Brave New World.


So what are the answers? Choosing a face-to-face conversation with a friend or co-worker ahead of a social media post or email. Getting to know the neighbours. Checking in regularly with friends and family. Asking someone how they are - and listening and responding.

Old-school maybe, but it seems we've still got a lot to learn.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.