“From disconnection to love” series
According to the campaign to end loneliness, it is today’s most significant health concern. Loneliness can come and go, or chronic loneliness, where we all feel this way daily. Emotional loneliness, existential loneliness or social loneliness are not having that close partner or attachment to another, not having that circle of friends, colleagues, or neighbour and feeling a great sense of separateness from other human beings.
The World Health Organisation talks about loneliness in the older generations as being one in three people being isolated and lonely and that the effect on mortality is like factors such as smoking, obesity and being inactive. It is recognised now as a priority public health problem for elders.
For younger generations, loneliness can increase anxiety, stress, depression, and being tied up in challenging experiences and situations. For example, if you have experienced a bereavement, then this can cause you to feel this way: retirement, feeling isolated from your family and friends, moving to a new country, or starting university. What better way to not feel lonely than to go on social media and connect with ‘something’ to take our mind away from this feeling of loneliness?
Research shows that particular groups of people are more prone to loneliness. Can you identify with any of the following?
1. Being estranged from your family
2. Are a single parent
3. Being in a minority group
4. Have a disability
5. Experiencing discrimination because of a disability; gender; colour; education; sexual orientation
6. Being a victim of abuse
Loneliness can feel like a dark cloud following you or an endless pit in your stomach that has no words; it is always with you. In my experience, having a different type of brain that processes the world and people differently can make you feel lonely and misunderstood. It feels like the safe thing to do is to keep away from the world and people and retreat because nobody understands what you are saying/feeling or how you are behaving. Most people have neurotypical brains, but other people have neurodiverse brains, which means that they have pronounced strengths and weaknesses. It does not mean that they are sick!
Dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, learning disability, dyspraxia, autism, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia are what some of the neurodivergent conditions are called. When there are barriers to functioning and learning in the environment, this can cause loneliness for these people, and they can struggle. Let’s be clear that this struggle is not lessened through social media.
Social isolation and loneliness can result from discrimination and colleagues, friends, and family members making assumptions about our capabilities and worth and treating us differently as if we were faulty! This can result from a failure in our workplace to make reasonable adjustments, victimisation and harassment. Some symptoms might be difficulty focusing, irritability, restlessness, a need to cover your ears and eyes, agitation, stress, fear and anxiety about your environment and hypersensitivity.
Loneliness happens when the social connections people want do not match their actual lived experiences of relationships with others; it’s an emotional response to this and can mean we are more fearful of social situations, coping, growing older, and being in relationships. It depends on the characteristics of the person, the characteristics of the case, and the cultural values and norms of how the person will experience loneliness.