Lonliness has grown hugely in our society, so much so that Jo Cox, M.P had raised it in Parliament and asked agencies to investigate it. It has been shown to kill people, hugely affecting our psychological and physical health, and is a silent epidemic, that only occasionally is raised, and we still struggle with talking about it, and admitting to others, that we feel lonely.
Often also people, rush in with suggestions and ideas, not able or willing to hear the real pain behind the words, or not appreciate the fear and courage it has taken to dare approach the subject.
We are by our very nature, social animals, and isolation has been used as a torture technique, as we humans fail when isolated. It is a basic human need, contact with others, babies can fail to thrive and develop and thousands in our society are quietly drowning in isolation. There is a sense of shame speaking about or admitting to feelings of being lonely, as we are somehow defective, if we cannot share our lives, or keep people in our lives.
Often life events, or family situations beyond our control can lead us to losing contact with our biological groups known as “family”, or abuse, breakdown, bereavement or trauma can prevent us from developing relationships. Often those who lose a partner, have no social skills to develop relationships again as a single person, or the bereavement prevents them from wanting to or feeling able to build new friendships.
Developments such as social media, can also present a distorted impression of peoples’ lives and leave those who are not seen as traditionally exciting, or popular, thus increasing the fear a young person who does not have good social skills, and make them even less likely to reach out and find a peer group or feel pressure to be something or perform like their peers, thus increasing their sense of alienation. Those with disabilities, or illnesses can become less able to get out and fear leaving their homes, and see themselves as not part of their community, or fear rejection or ridicule. Illness can challenge a person’s sense of self, and if no support is offered can become a chronic problem.
Being thought of as lonely can be quite stigmatising and create barriers, and even if in contact with public services, are limited in what they can offer. Our self- stigma can then prevent the person in taking up offers of support or having the courage to make that first contact.
This, I feel is a huge area needing support, in helping people make new connections and supporting them until they have solid supports, instead of withdrawing support too early.
We could all think about meeting each person as a fellow human being, and offer companionship and suggestions if wanted, not telling someone how they need to be living. We could find out what matters to them, valuing them in their uniqueness, and building or rebuilding hope that things can be different. We can offer a bridge instead of a barrier. Next time we come into contact with someone in our community, we could ask how are they and really take time to listen, not rush by.