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27 May 2016

Isolation: as dangerous as smoking

Isolation: as dangerous as smoking

Marianne Clough is national PR manager at Alliance member Christians Against Poverty, which works to lift people out of financial hardship.

Nearly nine million people are still smoking cigarettes, spending a whopping £12 billion on them in the UK each year, according to reports this week.

There's the new unbranded packaging covered in terrifying medical photos predicting what can happen, on top of all the public smoking bans in pubs, cars, and even outside - yet something like one in four over the age of 16 are still smoking.

The smallest packet of 10 cigarettes will set you back around £4 – you'd get 16 pints of supermarket milk for the same amount. Crazy, isn't it?

Successive governments have gone all-out to make smoking socially unacceptable because they know those same people are likely to land up in hospital. Well, today I want to talk about another thing that's seriously damaging our health. It's at very worrying levels. In fact the UK is thought to be the most at risk in Europe and really we should be similarly dedicated to tackling it.

It's loneliness.

Research has found that a lack of social connections can be as bad for your health as 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness causes your blood pressure to rise; you're more likely to suffer from dementia, anxiety, depression, obesity, more likely to even suffer heart disease. We have all felt a bit lonely at times, but I'm talking about the type where people speak to no one day after day. No one calls, no one pops round, and no one seems to care.

Could any of these be people we know?

The Bible is clear about reaching out. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that if we help someone else, it's like directly serving him. Mother Teresa often said that she saw Jesus in others. This got me thinking: perhaps the reverse is true – maybe people living in persisting isolation find it genuinely harder to see God. We were designed to live in community and the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit shows us the way.

The good news is the local Church is perfectly positioned to reach the 7.6 million people now living by themselves in the UK. We are everywhere, in every parish, on the ground and with a variety of resources to help link people up, be it mums and toddlers' groups, lunches for elderly folk, job clubs – there are so many ways.

We also know, from recent reports, that churchgoing affects our physical health. Scientists studied 74,000 women over a 16-year period and found most regular churchgoers were 33 per cent less likely to have died than those who never attended. The Alliance's own research into health and wellbeing also showed that being part of a church is good for us.

So now we can say with authority what we've known for ages, church is good for us, God is good! Hebrews 10:25 tells us to keep meeting up together because we've got serious encouraging to do – and guess what, it's a proven life-saver. And that's on top of the eternal benefits!

One last point; if loneliness is something you're carrying at the moment, let me encourage you: get out there because you are needed. Even if it's just meeting someone for a coffee or volunteering to hear children read at a school, when you set out to break your own loneliness you'll bring God's presence nearer both to you and to others.

Be brave. Do it: He won't let you down.

As a member of the Evangelical Alliance, Christians Against Poverty is one of 600 organisations supported by the Alliance. We facilitate members' initiatives and campaigns and offer support to increase their impact and provide training for organisations on how to engage with the local government and media.

If you would like to become a member of the Evangelical Alliance as an organisation, church or individual, you can find out more here.

Image: CC sebadelval