The Dutch Initiative to Combat Loneliness and Its Impact on Society

Loneliness is a prevalent issue that affects individuals across all age groups and can have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health. In the Netherlands, the tragic discovery of a woman who had been dead in her home for 10 years sparked a national campaign to address loneliness and promote social connections. This initiative, known as Een tegen eenzaamheid or One Against Loneliness, has inspired various schemes and collaborations aimed at fostering inclusivity and supporting vulnerable individuals.

The story of Bep de Bruin, the woman who went unnoticed for a decade, captivated the nation and shed light on the profound loneliness that can exist within a bustling city. Local politician Hugo de Junge seized the opportunity to launch a pilot project, which involved volunteers offering welfare visits to Rotterdam residents over the age of 75. This initial effort gained momentum, resulting in the establishment of a national initiative in 2018 that focused on combating loneliness among the elderly.

The impact of the One Against Loneliness campaign has been significant. While global figures on loneliness are scarce, a recent EU-wide survey revealed that approximately one in eight people feel lonely most of the time, with a third experiencing loneliness at least occasionally. Nevertheless, the Netherlands was found to have one of the lowest levels of loneliness in Europe. This achievement can be attributed to the multifaceted approach taken by the initiative.

A crucial aspect of the campaign is the emphasis on collaboration. Advisers visit local municipalities to help them develop action plans and encourage the formation of anti-loneliness networks composed of healthcare professionals, volunteers, and businesses. These networks facilitate the exchange of ideas and the joint pursuit of strategies to combat loneliness. Moreover, the creation of the National Coalition Against Loneliness has expanded collaboration to a national level, bringing together diverse entities such as banks, supermarkets, charities, sports clubs, and cultural institutions. Through regular meetings and shared objectives, these partners contribute their resources and expertise to the cause of combating loneliness.

The impact of the initiative can be seen in numerous innovative projects that have emerged as a result. For instance, the Jumbo supermarket chain introduced “chatty checkouts” in select stores, where customers can engage in conversation with cashiers without feeling rushed. This small step fosters social interaction and counters the impersonal nature of self-checkout machines. Similarly, the national postal service, Post NL, has implemented a voluntary scheme in which postal workers report any residents they suspect may be struggling with loneliness. This proactive approach utilizes the existing network of postal workers to identify individuals in need and connect them with welfare organizations.

The One Against Loneliness campaign has also expanded its scope beyond the elderly. Recognizing that loneliness can affect anyone, including young adults, the initiative expanded in 2022 to encompass society as a whole. Various research projects are underway, focusing on high-risk groups such as informal carers, older migrants, and teenagers. By addressing the broader issue of loneliness, the campaign aims to create an inclusive and connected society where individuals of all ages and backgrounds feel valued and supported.

Numerous organizations and projects have joined the fight against loneliness, each approaching the issue in unique ways. Oopoeh, for example, pairs older adults who desire companionship with busy dog owners, allowing them to experience the joy of pet ownership without the long-term commitment. This not only improves their physical and mental well-being but also fosters connections within their neighborhoods.

Despite the progress made, tackling loneliness requires combating stigma and societal misconceptions. Many initiatives, such as Oma’s Soep, an organization that pairs seniors with student volunteers for cooking sessions, don’t explicitly mention the topic of loneliness to prevent potential members from feeling alienated or labeled. Normalizing conversations about loneliness and increasing awareness are crucial steps toward creating a society that embraces inclusivity and supports its members.

The One Against Loneliness campaign dedicates a week each year, known as National Loneliness Week, to encourage open discussions about loneliness and organize special events throughout the country. By involving coalition partners and the wider community, this initiative seeks to raise awareness and engage individuals in meaningful conversations.

While the fight against loneliness in the Netherlands is far from over, the One Against Loneliness campaign has shown promising results. By fostering collaboration, addressing the needs of various vulnerable groups, and promoting inclusivity, the country has made significant strides in combatting loneliness. The ultimate goal is to prevent tragedies like Bep de Bruin’s case from recurring and to create a society where everyone feels seen, heard, and connected.

If you or someone you know is affected by loneliness, support is available. References to relevant helplines or support services can be included here.