This Lunar New Year, let's banish loneliness in Hong Kong - South China Morning Post



This Lunar New Year, let's banish loneliness in Hong Kong

Setting aside "me time" has become popular in recent years. But in the United States, people are spending much more time alone, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, and there may be mental health ramifications. Given that Hongkongers face a similar issue, this deserves our attention.

According to the American Time Use Survey by the US Census Bureau, between 2010 and 2013, Americans aged 15 and older spent an average of about six and a half hours a week with friends. This started to decline from 2014 so that by 2019, the average American was spending only four hours a week with friends. Economist Bryce Ward points to social media, political polarisation and new technologies such as smartphones as culprits.

Then came the pandemic. In 2021, Americans were down to spending just two hours and 45 minutes per week with friends (down 58 per cent from 2010-13). Worryingly, a similar decline in socialising was seen even when the definition of "friends" was broadened to include neighbours, colleagues and customers.

Concerningly, Americans were choosing to spend the time away from socialising not by being with their spouses or children more – but by being alone. This inclination manifested across gender and race, rich-poor and urban-rural divides, and whether the respondents were married or unmarried, parents or non-parents, remote or face-to-face workers.

It is too early to make any conclusions about the long-term effects of this trend, but humans are social animals, and spending too little time with others can affect mental health, especially for adolescents.

Studies have shown that loneliness can shorten lives. Conversely, exercise and social interaction can enhance mental health.

In Britain, health workers can refer people who are lonely or isolated to community groups for activities such as gardening and dance, through "social prescribing".

What about Hong Kong? The Lunar New Year holiday is fast approaching: after three years of Covid-19 restrictions and emigration waves, let us cherish physical gatherings with relatives and friends once again. Let us spend less time online and more time going out to meet people as we begin a new Year of the Rabbit.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong