Jan. 17 (UPI) -- In an effort to combat an epidemic plaguing the country, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister of Loneliness Wednesday to address the physical and mental health issues caused by too much isolation.
"For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life," May said in a statement. "I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones -- people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with."
"It's proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, but it can be overcome and needn't be a factor in older people's lives," he said.
Several recent studies have documented the health effects of loneliness, which has been linked to depression, drug addiction, heart attacks and dementia.
"Many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a 'loneliness epidemic.' The challenge we face now is what can be done about it," said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.
The plan to appoint a minister to address loneliness was set up by Jo Cox, a member of Parliament who was murdered by a armed white supremacist in 2016. Cox created a commission on loneliness
A commission on loneliness, which was set up by former Member of Parliament Jo Cox before she was murdered, had called for a minister to be appointed to spearhead the government's strategy. Cox was 41 years old when she was killed by a white supremacist in 2016, in the lead-up to the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union.
"This is an issue that Jo cared passionately about and we will honor her memory by tackling it, helping the millions of people across the UK who suffer from loneliness," May said.
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness stated mission is to "work to address the impact loneliness has on so many different sections of society."
The commission's website cited several studies that point out the health impacts and prevalence of loneliness among all demographics, in particularly the elderly and disabled.
"One of the awful things about losing Jo is knowing how much difference she would have made in the world," Cox's husband, Brendan Cox, said in a tweet. "When the kids wake up this morning I'm going to tell them how -- even though she's not here -- she's still making the world a better place."