Loneliness is a health epidemic!

Most of us would have experienced loneliness at-least once in their lives. Loneliness is far more than just an emotion. A popular conception that loneliness is caused due to lack of human contact is actually not true; it’s definitely more than that.

Loneliness as common as it may seem, many of lack the understanding of what loneliness is in its true sense.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is different from being Alone, although researchers have empirical evidences to believe stronger correlation between loneliness and aloneness.

While loneliness is commonly present in variety of mental illnesses, many a times Loneliness is a cause than a symptom. Human contact and closeness is fundamental to our well-being. But loneliness is not only lack of friends or family, infact it’s a state of mind.

It causes people to feel empty, unwanted and alone. Although people who feel lonely, crave for human closeness, but their state of mind makes them feel the same even when they are amongst their friends, peers, roomies etc.

Many experts believe, loneliness is not necessarily about being alone, instead if one is feeling alone and isolated, that is how loneliness would play into their mind.

For instance, a student may feel lonely when he moves to a new college for higher studies despite of being surrounded by fellow students and room mates.

Or a sports person could feel lonely despite of siblings, parents and kins living under the same roof. An overweight teenager may feel unwanted and therefore isolate themselves despite of being close to family and friends.

Why do people feel loneliness?

The response to this question may vary and is unique to every person. Some common reasons could be:

  • Reacting poorly to the stresses in their lives and therefore isolating them from others.
  • Struggling with a low self-esteem and consequently feeling lonely
  • Poor social skills
  • History of Trauma
  • Bullying, abuse
  • Feeling ashamed of their own physical appearance
  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • OCD
  • Other illness

Although, as mentioned earlier, it is a state of mind, and how one feels, is how loneliness would play into their mind.

Loneliness epidemic:

Studies suggest loneliness is wide spreading. Although it is seen common in certain demographics and categories, but none is immune to loneliness. It can affect everyone irrespective of gender, race, social-economic background.

Researches revealed that low levels of loneliness are associated with marriage, higher incomes, and higher educational status.

High levels of loneliness are associated with physical health symptoms, living alone, small social networks, and low-quality social relationships.

In 2016 to 2017, there were 5% of adults in England who reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”. Younger adults aged 16 to 24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.

Women reported feeling lonely more often than men.

Those single or widowed were at particular risk of experiencing loneliness more often. India’s National Sample Survey Office indicated in 2004 that 1.23 million men and 3.68 million women are living alone and faced loneliness.

Loneliness is Contagious:

Although, it is suggested to increase social contact and human interactions, studies have proved how loneliness can actually be contagious. It has severe potency to spread across social networks.

A ten-year research study showed people who are close to those experiencing loneliness are 52 percent more likely to become lonely them selves.

A constant exposure and reinforcement of messages could make someone feel the same way, for instance social handles and profile of lonely people are liked by many and most gradually resonate with the similar emotional struggle.

Loneliness can incite risky behaviour:

Human closeness is an essential for emotional stability as well as rationality.

A scientific study scientists, led by academics from King’s College London, surveyed participants about their experiences at different stages of their lives on topics including loneliness, mental health, physical health, relationships and general life experiences, found that participants with high level if loneliness are more prone to “physical health risk behavior” and succumb to negative stress coping strategies including smoking, substance abuse

Professor Peter Cohen (Director of the Centre for Drug Research in Amsterdam) who says:

If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe.

Professor Cohen says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else. So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

Also Read: I’ve isolated myself for fear of people’s judgemental behaviour, but I have realised it’s taking me nowhere.!

The modern social structural change leading to loneliness:

Rising isolation is a common feature of modern societies, where individualism is logically accepted. Added to this, increase in communication technology, social media and network has deepened the cracks, resulting in social anxiety, loneliness.

A busy work schedule, coupled with longer commute time is making meeting real friends and family more and more difficult. Working professionals are spending lesser and lesser time at home, and it has therefore caused a rise in social network and Internet usage.

Its time we take a stock of how each one of is either suffering or contributing to this social menace. In my opinion, as it’s a social problem, and therefore it needs a systemic approach.

Schools, colleges, workplaces, communities should take charge and assess what system problem are causing isolation, separation etc. Individuals need to quickly take corrective steps to overcome loneliness.

Cognitive Behavior therapy has proven three times more effective; it not only helps in developing social skills but also provides adequate social support.

Seeking help and talking could be the first step to fighting loneliness.

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