Researchers in the U.K. estimate that nearly 9 million residents said they regularly feel alone. The issue is so pressing that the British government recently created a new role of a Loneliness minster. In a statement, British Prime Minister Theresa May said “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.”

Rates of loneliness in the US have doubled since the 1980s. The exact cause is hard to pinpoint, but a mix of social atomization, families living further and further apart and lack of physical contact due to increased online networks all seem to play their part.

But the problem can’t be tackled by policy alone. The president of the Togetherness Program created by CareMore, a health plan and delivery system in the United States, Dr. Sachin H. Jain, said the condition: “should be addressed by physicians, nurses, and other clinicians as a treatable medical condition.”

In December last year, the New York Times published an article that outlined all the health effects of loneliness, which included an increased chance of developing Type 2 diabeties, heart desease, anddementia. In another piece of research, it stated that loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.

Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician and researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, described the rise in feeling alone as a “serious epidemic” that the country needs to tackle. According to another survey an estimated 200,000 elderly people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.