The INTERACT Study funded by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration NWL is the first study in the UK to measure loneliness ‘at scale’ to inform targeted interventions for individuals who may be suffering in silence.
Researchers working in partnership with Imperial’s School of Public Health, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Hammersmith & Fulham Council aim of identifying ways to tackle social isolation & loneliness in the community setting. They are asking residents to complete an online survey that asks questions about loneliness, feelings of inclusion and isolation.
Dr Austen El-Osta, who is leading the project, said:
“Loneliness is one of society's entrenched problems and has a significant impact on mental health, life expectancy and quality of life. As loneliness and isolation can affect people of all ages and from all different walks of life, it is important for to attempt to ‘measure’ loneliness and to gain insights from as diverse a range of people as possible.
"We hope that members of the community will help us to capture a snapshot of the issue to better inform interventions and the future direction of research into an important area of study that is often overlooked.”
Loneliness ‘heat map’ at borough and city level
Answers to the survey will be used to produce a ‘heat map’ showing levels of loneliness in London so that services and interventions can be targeted to those at most risk of social isolation.
For the first phase, the team are working closely with Hammersmith & Fulham Council who will contact residents who are 16 years or older with an invitation to complete the short anonymous survey. At the same time, NIHR Clinical Research Network will contact all GP practices across the borough to disseminate study information to all eligible patients who meet the inclusion criteria with a link to a mirrored survey with NHS Research Ethics Committee approvals.
There are over 120,000 residents who are over 16 years old in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, and the vision is to engage with members of the community, libraries, schools, sheltered accommodation, volunteer groups and partners in White City and NHS primary care to maximise recruitment over the next three months.
Tackling social isolation
Dr El-Osta continues:
“We hope our heat map of loneliness will help us answer some key questions, including the extent the patterns we observe from measuring loneliness are similar to those derived by using known predictors of loneliness, such as unemployment, living alone and other factors. We could also look at what evidence-based interventions could be considered based on the area in which people live, their communities, and the services that already exist.”
"Local authorities could use this information to mobilise already existing community assets (such as pharmacists, or volunteer organisations) and targeted interventions (such as befriending schemes and organised walks in the park and social tea parties) to support people in need, or who may be suffering in silence.”
Access the online survey here: https://imperial.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2uIyxcCD7JYbKyq