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Will the minister for loneliness be the first to unite mental health and technology?

Written by Karen Dolva on Thursday, 01 March 2018. Posted in Politics, Analysis

With the appointment of Britain's first minister for loneliness, UK tech startups may now be in a solid position to make a difference to mental health, argues Karen Dolva, CEO and co-founder of No Isolation

Will the minister for loneliness be the first to unite mental health and technology?

Loneliness has been front of mind in the UK media for a while now. However, 2018 marks a crucial tipping point with this social topic having become a governmental one. In the last few months the UK has seen important changes in the way we tackle loneliness, with Tracey Crouch having been appointed to the new role of minister for loneliness in January being one of the most vital one.

From government officials and charities to local communities and those who suffer from isolation, people from all over the country haven’t rested on their laurels to offer their positive reactions. And we are all seemingly unanimous in thinking that this appointment was a much needed step in the right direction.

The main thing Crouch’s new role signifies is that concrete steps are being taken to fight the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the UK. This is incredibly encouraging for those of us already striving to help solve the issue of social isolation but who, until this point, have not had the official backing to do so.

The official government appointment of a dedicated figure that will dictate policy around loneliness who has the authority and the time to commission and drive important research projects has been desperately needed for many decades. And I have no doubt the research will offer up crucial and invaluable insights.

However, it's vital that this data be made public. When these loneliness figures are readily available technology startups will have the basic tools to begin developing their own solutions to help lonely people both here in the UK and all over the world. It also means there will be greater legitimacy for those already working in this space.

As it stands, we are working in an undefined market and this means finding funding and potential partners can be difficult. While many companies have the drive and motivation to eradicate loneliness, without adequate support and access to measurable and reliable data, the developed products cannot truly reflect the needs of the people suffering from isolation.

As a society we are arguably more connected than we have ever been, yet the many tools that encourage us to remain in contact are not working for large groups of society. Embracing research and innovation can change this for the better.

As a first step, companies like mine must share their findings with the government and have access to new data as and when it is available to help inform innovation and future policy. Together with the government, we need to take stock of where we are at present, and identify which groups are most at risk.

For example, it is typically assumed that the age group that is most susceptible to loneliness is the elderly. However, from our own exploration we know isolation affects people of all ages  – from young children and teenagers to city dwellers to new mothers and single parents. Information like this is key in developing new policies and dedicated, intuitive technologies which will hopefully solve the loneliness epidemic for good.

Technology can and does work as a solution to loneliness. We have proved this and we hope this will inspire other startups, with the support and backing of the UK government, to take up this challenge too. It is our collective responsibility to work together to find a solution

About the Author

Karen Dolva

Karen Dolva

After studying computer science and interaction design at the University of Oslo, Karen Dolva put her knowledge into caring through entrepreneurship. She is the founder of No Isolation, a startup that uses tech to tackle loneliness experienced by poorly children, something gaining traction in the UK.

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