Opinion

How to treat the epidemic of loneliness

To the editor:


The British government just created a cabinet level ministry devoted to loneliness. A growing number of health professionals in Great Britain and around the world have identified loneliness as a serious health problem on the scale of an epidemic. The problem has been and continues to be that people who are lonely do not want to talk about it or bring it to the attention of others, even their families or their doctors.


Loneliness increases stress which leads to disease which can, and often does, lead to people passing away prematurely. But the real question is how to treat loneliness so the quality of life for an individual is richer, more meaningful, and more joyful while they live.


People need each other. This is a self-evident truth we all live with. We need people we can trust, confide in, and socialize with. We need to feel part of groups of people and communities that value our participation in the group. That make us feel we belong, and that we are appreciated and valued. The absence of this connection can lead people to feel afraid, insecure, and vulnerable.


The proven biological response to loneliness is fight or flight. It is a highly agitated state full of misery and conflicted feelings. Everyone wants to feel strong, self-sufficient, and secure. It is not easy to talk about feeling lonely, not ever. Not even with the people who love us most.


So what is the answer? It would seem simple enough: make friends, find groups of people who share mutual interests, get out of the house. But the society and culture we live in today can make it harder than it seems.


Electronic devices of every kind, especially cell phones, create isolation, less meaningful human contact and, though useful for communication, are not and never will be a substitute for human, one-to-one, contact. Texting is fine but it doesn?t even come close to a heart-to-heart talk with someone you love and truly care about.


People can feel lonely anywhere ? in small groups or large. They can feel lonely at parties and celebrations, at schools, at work, or even at home with their families.


As with most problems, the lonely person must find the courage to find help. Joining 12-step groups can be very meaningful. Joining churches, spiritual groups, yoga classes, writing groups, peer groups or groups of any kind can help a lot. Making an effort to meet new people and visit new places can help, too.


Even going to a therapist can help if your resources permit it. Spending less time on electronic devices is worth a try. And encouraging children to do so is a responsibility of every parent. The main thing is to act. The difference one feels is often immediate. Loneliness seems to slip away before you hardly notice it.


It can also be rewarding to share your time with others who may be lonely: in hospitals and retirement homes, in jails, and in halfway houses. Anything you give comes back to you. The answer is always within each of us but the action we take is always up to us. Helping and serving others will help us find more meaningful lives, and less lonely lives, too.


 


? Jim Turner, Fairfield