According to poet John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself…” Some people indeed live alone, but not in a lonely way because being lonely is not good for our health and well-being. Research shows that aside from the emotional aspect, loneliness can also shorten our lives. It is linked with poor mental health, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia.
Laura Ferguson, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, a group of organizations working to fight the problem, says loneliness is a public health issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Over the last few decades, researches have continued to show that 10% of older people feel lonely all the time. According to estimates, there are more than one million people above age 65 who always feel lonely. Professor Christina Victor from Brunel University says reducing or eliminating loneliness would surely improve health and one indication of quality of life is the quality of social relationships.
However, loneliness is not limited to the older people. Younger people, specifically those between 18 and 24 years of age, are also prone to it. An older person might get lonely because of health problems or loss of a partner. A younger person’s loneliness, on the other hand, could stem from unemployment, homesickness, or having a child.
Prof Vanessa Burholt, from the Centre of Innovative Ageing at Swansea University, says “Loneliness is the difference between your desired contact with people and the contact with people you actually have. This explains why some people with lots of friends still feel lonely. It’s a subjective thing.”
Professor Burholt’s research suggests that our surroundings and mental health can indeed affect our view of social relationships: “Depressed people find it harder to change their perception of the level of personal relationships they need. They are not able to adjust it.”
Still, there is a way out of all the bleak settings. Loneliness is not a life-long condition. People will always tend to step in and out of loneliness during different stages and events in their lives. Each person has a different need for social relationships. We should not think that all older people are lonely.
“Throughout life there are peaks and troughs,” Prof Burholt says.”We are constantly negotiating what our social resources are and whether we feel lonely or not.”
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