Kate Leaver, the author of The Friendship Cure, talks to Ann Chadwick about loneliness, shame and what really matters most.

Moving to the other side of the world can certainly make you think. For Australian journalist Kate Leaver, a move to London three and a half years ago made her ponder the nature of friendship.

“I had come to the end of a long term relationship and was at a stage in my career where I felt I needed a big life change.”

In Sydney, Kate was the features editor of Cosmopolitan before moving into digital journalism as a senior editor on Australia’s leading women’s website, Mamamia.

“I spent a couple of years very much in the middle of the news cycle, reacting to stories as they happened. I tired of that and really craved more time to think before writing.”

Kate carved a space penning human interest stories for the Guardian, Vice, Vogue and The Pool while writing her book, The Friendship Cure, which took a year to research and write.

“I have a small group of university friends who are my favourite people on the planet but geographically we were separated. I didn’t have contact accept via WhatsApp. It got me thinking about the nature of friendship and how it changes.”

Kate also read an article in The Atlantic that said as we arrive in our thirties pursuing family and career, friends are the first thing to fall by the way side.

“It said we tend to get lonely as we get older because we don’t prioritise our friendships. That frightened me.”

Her research found that loneliness is the new taboo.

“I interviewed some really brave, generous people who were very honest. But they didn’t feel comfortable telling people close to them that they were lonely – their wife or mother or sister. There’s a shame and guilt attached. To say out loud the words, ‘I feel lonely’, we think – wrongly – is saying, ‘I’m unlikeable’. I spoke to a psychiatrist in the States who said he kept having people come to him and self-diagnose with depression. He was really shocked because he had to tell them you’re not clinically depressed, you’re just lonely. And people were more ashamed to tell him they were lonely, then they were depressed.”

She employed her strongest skill to try and break down these taboos – writing.

“Writing a book, I was really hoping that people would pick it up if they were lonely, or would pick it up and maybe realise they were lonely, and feel less lonely, or less alone in the experience of loneliness by knowing other people go through it; to read about ways to get through it, to know they can survive it.”

Now shock statistics state loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“There’s a study that says loneliness makes us more likely to interpret other people’s behaviour as being confrontational, or repellent or aggressive, so we’re more likely to interpret other peoples’ gestures of friendship as not being genuine. Loneliness has a way of feeding on itself and making us more isolated and alone.”

Kate says it isn’t just internal barriers around self-esteem or a notion ‘we don’t deserve friendship’ but external barriers too. It’s an unspoken law not to create conversation on public transport, and safe public spaces like libraries, are closing down.

How do you make friends as an adult?

“The first thing I encourage people to do is an audit of their lives because I think we have a lot of opportunities that we don’t pursue because of a lack of self-confidence or a fear of rejection.”

Kate suggests we nurture friendships at work; research shows it makes you better at your job and happier as a human. She advises a little community effort on the street you live – festive parties for neighbours, or inviting them for a cuppa. And to embrace the internet.

“There are specific friendship Apps like Bumble so you know people are willing to be friends just by being there.”

Saying that, as a ‘woman online who has opinions’ Kate has experienced trolling, and understands the internet can fuel political divisiveness and personal attacks. Which is why she feels we need ‘an aggressive campaign of kindness.’

“Whether it’s Trump or the terrifying prospect of climate change – you can only really make a personal commitment to do the right thing. If we each employed a policy of being kind to one another, to support and nurture our friendships – that can only help.”

Hosted by Harrogate International Festivals, Berwins Salon North is a cabaret-style night of TED-talks presenting the most stimulating ideas designed to change your life for the better.

Kate hopes to inspire audiences for its January theme, ‘What Matters Most’. She’ll be joined by Mark Miodownik, one of the UK’s leading science communicators, described by Bill Gates as a ‘great talent’.  Also speaking is the academic Roger Hampson on how the smart-machines revolution is re-shaping our lives and our societies.

“A range of speakers is a great idea and the theme, What Matters Most, is a really exciting theme to reflect on,” Kate said. “Really what I’m asking people to do in my book and everything else I write and speak about publicly, is to stop and think about what matters most.”

Berwins Salon North: What Matters Most, Thursday 24 January | 7.30pm, The Crown Hotel | Harrogate, harrogateinternationalfestivals.com Box Office: 01423 562 303. The paperback of Kate Leaver’s book, The Friendship Cure, will be exclusively available in Waterstones Harrogate two months before its national release.