Starting in September of 2020, schoolchildren across the United Kingdom will learn from their teachers how to fend off loneliness.
In January, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the first “minister of loneliness.” This week, her administration released an 84-page plan detailing the actions it will take to curb loneliness across the country, including measures that will be enacted in schools. Starting in primary school, students will have mandatory lessons in “relationships education,” and such lessons will also be incorporated into sex-ed classes in high school.
The Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the foremost scholars on loneliness in the United States, warns that the U.S. has a significant, largely unaddressed loneliness problem of its own—and that schools desperately need to follow the U.K.’s lead and incorporate preventive measures into their lessons.
Indeed, according to a recent report by the health-care company Cigna, nearly half of adults in the U.S. reported sometimes or always feeling alone. Marriage rates and religious-participation rates are also dropping, and both are risk factors for social isolation and loneliness. The prevalence of loneliness seems to be especially acute among young adults: One study last year found that Americans ages 21 to 30 reported feeling lonely on twice as many days as adults ages 50 to 70, despite having larger social networks. The health consequences of loneliness can be severe: Studies suggest chronic loneliness is linked to a variety of health issues, such as decreased immunity to viral infections, poor sleep, and cardiovascular issues like hypertension.