Hotline launched for lonely young people

Foundation Join Us launched a hotline for young people struggling with loneliness. It is estimated that tens of thousands of young people between the ages of 12 and 30 are lonely in the Netherlands. "The hotline should make the urgency of the problem clear, also to politicians", Jolanda van Gerwe, initiator of Join Us and co-founder of the hotline, said to RTL Nieuws. 

The hotline was prompted by a tweet by 25-year-old Nadi van de Watering. "I'm on my own every day. I only have 30 minutes of physio. So far that's my social life. Working, studying, going out, exercising are not possible. But after 9 years alone every day.. I want a network in Nijmegen", she tweeted a few weeks ago. "Where can I find a social life?"

Her openness on social media turned out to be contagious. Other young people also expressed their loneliness and sought contact through the hashtag #maatjegezocht, which translates to 'friend sought' in English. 

To make sure this does not end with just a tweet, Join Us set up the hotline and calls on lonely young people between the ages of 12 and 30 to report. The foundation already has 11 locations in Noord-Brabant where lonely young people can go to get help in building their social lives. But more is needed. "We get a lot of applications from all over the country. We can't help those young people yet", De Gerwe said. 

An estimated 3 to 10 percent of young people are chronically lonely, Gerine Lodder from Tilburg University said to the broadcaster. Lodder is one of few scientists in the Netherlands doing scientific research into loneliness among young people. Her estimation is based on international and Flemish research, as there are no hard figures for the Netherlands yet. "That is because little research has been done on it. Only in the past years has loneliness among young people been taken more seriously. In the past, attention was mainly paid to the elderly."

Loneliness can affect more than just emotional wellbeing, according to both Van Gerwe and Lodder. "We now know from research what the effects are of being lonely for a long time", Van Gerwe said to the broadcaster. "Faster chance of depression, stress, suicidal thoughts. And I can go on and on." Lodder added: "We also see physical health consequences: I recently read in a study that the immune system works less well in lonely young adults. Sleeping problems and more drug and alcohol use also occur. But we cannot yet say how long you have to be lonely to develop such problems."