GPs nationwide are seeing up to 10 patients a day who are simply lonely - and men are feeling more isolated than women.
The news comes as a Sheffield project which aims to reduce loneliness in the over 50s says one of its challenges is to engage with men.
Men are more at risk of isolation because research shows they make friends less easily than women and don’t take part in as many social activities or community groups. More than one in 10 men are lonely but would not admit it.
The Big Lottery Fund awarded £6m to Sheffield to reduce loneliness and social isolation in people aged 50 plus and Age Better in Sheffield was launched. It has specifically worked in Beauchief and Greenhill, Burngreave, Firth Park and Woodhouse.
There are still three years of funding left and South Yorkshire Housing Association, which is leading the programme, wants to hear from people about what more can be done.
Ruby Smith, head of co-design and improvement at South Yorkshire Housing Association, said: “In many ways, the first three years of Age Better in Sheffield have gone as we had imagined; we’ve done a great deal of what we set out to do.
“We had some fantastic conversations with people across Sheffield and done some amazing work. In particular we’ve engaged especially well with women. One of our challenges over the next three years will be to engage with men more.
“There’s a national evidence which suggests that men tend to make friends less easily than women and that men typically engage in less social activity than women.
“Similarly, recent research showed more than 1 in 10 men are lonely but wouldn’t admit it to anyone.
“Our conversations with men have suggested that men are less likely to socialise for the sake of socialising and would rather have another reason for going out and meeting other people.”
A few Age UK organisations across the UK have done Men in Sheds projects where the purpose of getting together is to fix things, rather than to socialise – socialising is a by-product rather than a purpose.
Age Better in Sheffield has already commissioned a range of services to reduce loneliness and isolation.
Sheffield Mind uses qualified counsellors to work with people who are experiencing isolation to such an extent that they feel unable to leave their home. They provide counselling in the home on a one to one basis to help people overcome psychological barriers to socialising and leaving their home.
Voluntary Action Sheffield works with people who are at risk of loneliness and social isolation after major life changes such as bereavement and retirement.
And Ignite Imaginations supports people to set up groups or activities - they helped an over 60s taekwondo group find a venue and funding.
In the past three years the Age Better in Sheffield programme has worked with 1,952 people who are experiencing loneliness and 425 volunteers have been involved in activities to reduce social isolation.
Almost half, 46 per cent of people, have a limiting health condition and 44 per cent have low mental wellbeing.
Ruby added: “We can’t say for sure what the next three years will hold; the city-wide engagement work we are currently doing will shape that future – that’s the only way we’ll make sure we’re offering the right support to the people of Sheffield.
“The things we do know about the next three years is that we will want to focus on the legacy and sustainability of the programme and create change that can live on beyond the funding we’ve got from the Big Lottery.
“We know we will need to approach this from two angles; driving change at a structural level, like improving the way employers in Sheffield support people with retirement planning, and driving small individual community action like encouraging neighbours to checking in on one another.”
Studies have found:
There are consistent levels of chronic loneliness among older people with between five and 15 per cent reporting that they are often or always lonely.
Three out of four GPs say they see up to five people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely
One in ten GPs see between six and ten such patients daily
Loneliness can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day