There is an epidemic going on that is finally starting to get some kind of attention in the media. That epidemic is loneliness. Many people are showing up for service and after a few meetings it’s clear that they are too isolated in their lives.
Isolation and loneliness are creating a significant amount of distress in the population. A blog or two ago, I wrote about Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections, where he espouses a theory that it’s the loss of meaningful connection to a number of things – not the least of which is other relationships – that is at the root of depression. The headline article of the April 2018 edition of Psychology Today is also focused on loneliness.
Something has happened to our social fabric. Not even a generation ago, we had connecting activities, connecting places, community – that somehow have disappeared and for many people simply no longer exist. I asked a young woman today how she will go about meeting someone as she feels ready for a relationship now – and her reply was “I have no idea how to meet someone”. What has happened?
We are a social animal. We need connection. It would be nice if I could say we crave it, it feels good, it’s a luxury … but it’s so much more than that. We are the kind of animal that is wired for it. Without connection we suffer. We really suffer. The excruciating pain of loneliness is a breeding ground for depression and anxiety. The lack of connection people are experiencing today is detrimental to mental health – there’s just no doubt about that anymore.
So what to do? When you have a depressed or anxious individual sitting in front of you, and you tell them they need to organize for more connection, and meaningful connection, the task seems too overwhelming. They look at you as if you are asking them to fly to the moon. But I want people to know it’s possible. It’s necessary. It’s imperative. One has to push against the fear of it, the lethargy (that’s your depression talking, telling you not to move) – and step outside yourself and engage. The Psychology Today article listed a number of ways that people are doing this. For example, if you already go to a gym – join a class… add the social component to the activity.
Truth be told there are no simple solutions. I’m extremely relieved to see that different groups and social agencies are starting to recognize the issue. It’s time we remove the stigma around being lonely and recognize how our lives and society have changed shape. The disconnection inherent in technology, the lack of social meeting places and community, these are extremely important changes that have occurred in our lifetime and we need to learn how to deal with it. And we need to talk about it!
If you are someone struggling with loneliness know there is no shame, there is nothing that you have done wrong. Many of us are here and need to know you, and how you are. Reach out.