July 15, 2024

Loneliness as danger: important for society as a whole rather than individual destiny

Loneliness as danger: important for society as a whole rather than individual destiny

Loneliness is a big problem for societies in modern times.Photo: Pexels/Sam Assad


Rebecca Sawicki

Suddenly life as we knew it no longer existed. Big celebrations in large groups, an evening at the bar, a trip to the pool, going to the open office, attending a play: impossible. From now on, many people learned what it means to feel lonely. For two years, her social life stopped. The pandemic has now been overcome and normal madness has returned. Life is bustling again – and yet many people still feel lonely.

Loneliness is an epidemic. It could jeopardize democracy because lonely people can easily fall into the hands of anti-democrats. But loneliness is a problem not only for our social system, but also and especially for those who experience it firsthand.

Loneliness doesn’t just affect older people. As the Loneliness Efficiency Network (KNE) reported in response to Watson’s request, about 14% of the population always feels lonely. KNE is interested in researching the causes and consequences of loneliness.

The idea of ​​the network is to collect and aggregate information. She would also like to advise the Traffic Light Government on its strategy against loneliness. This is currently being developed at the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs.

Although loneliness has long been considered a personal fate, it has now become a social problem. “Loneliness is the saddest reality of modern life,” declared former British Prime Minister Theresa May when she launched the UK Ministry of Loneliness.

Loneliness can affect anyone – and the risk is greatest for vulnerable groups

The organization says: “A person is particularly vulnerable in transitional situations in life, such as starting school, training, work and retirement, or if a person suffers a blow of fate, such as a separation or loss of a loved one.” Be. But people affected by poverty and those receiving community benefits are also at increased risk of feeling lonely.

According to KNE, social network composition changes with the duration of poverty. The number of people in a similar life situation to yours is increasing – so contacts with working people or people not affected by poverty will decrease.

Studies show that low-income people also experience greater isolation and a lower sense of belonging than people who earn more. In addition, poverty remains stigmatized.

Other people in vulnerable life situations are also more at risk of feeling lonely. In this context, the network lists refugees, people with a migration background, LGBT people, single parents or people taking care of their relatives, and people with disabilities or chronic diseases.

How lonely can you actually feel? Elizabeth (name changed), one of Watson’s affected readers, described her feelings of loneliness in an earlier conversation with Watson as follows:

“Of course I can do everything on my own and enjoy it, but if there is no one to talk to about it, I cannot share the joy I feel. And then this joy is like a learned language that I cannot use.”

Loneliness: This is not a problem limited to big cities

Despair is great. Frustration too. By the way, loneliness is not a purely urban problem – even if life in large, anonymous cities like Berlin, where many no longer even know their immediate neighbors, seems palpable. The German-level comparison results show regional differences, but these differences are not related to population density or type of settlement, the association says.

Specifically, the data showed that: More people feel lonely in East Germany than in the West. However, looking at West Germany, it becomes clear that in rural areas there are higher than average levels of loneliness (in northwest Germany, central Germany or Bavaria) and very low levels (also in Bavaria). Instead of population density, it is more about social, economic and demographic dynamics as well as the remoteness of the area.

April 4, 2023, Berlin - Germany.  View from Kienberg of the residential areas Marzahn - Hellersdorf.  *** 04 04 2023, Berlin Germany View from Kinberg to the residential areas Marzan Hellersdorf

Loneliness isn’t just a problem in big, anonymous cities.Photo: Imago Images / / Sabine Judath

This means: If there is infrastructure, such as bridges or railway lines, people and spaces are connected to each other. It can help. Also useful against loneliness: places for people. Such as parks, playgrounds or shopping malls. These are all low-level ways of communicating with people.

It is clear that the problem of loneliness must be addressed across society and at the political level. Because it puts pressure not only on the individual, but also on our democracy and even our health system. Loneliness can make you sick.

Loneliness poses a major health risk

The impact of loneliness on mental and physical health is enormous, according to KNE. There is often a relationship between loneliness and mental illness:

“A person who suffers from loneliness for years is more likely to develop depressive disorders and suicidal thoughts. At the same time, depressive disorder also causes the development of loneliness.”

And not only that. According to KNE, loneliness is also linked to the development of anxiety disorders, social phobia, sleep problems and dementia. Here too there are mutual relationships. Loneliness causes diseases, but conversely these diseases can also lead to loneliness. Loneliness can manifest itself not only mentally, but also physically: the result can be diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as reduced life expectancy.

Loneliness can make people sick, not only mentally but even physically.

Loneliness can make people mentally and physically ill.Photo: Pexels/Michael Jay Salcedo

“Chronic loneliness also has a negative impact on the thinking, experiences and behavior of isolated people,” explains the Global Network of Scientists. People who feel chronically lonely often end up in a spiral of negative thoughts and behavior patterns that can increase their feelings of loneliness. Another affected Watson reader, Nico (name changed by editors), described his feeling of loneliness in an earlier conversation with Watson:

Small steps out of loneliness

But how do we deal with the epidemic? In the first place, says the Greek Communist Youth, everyone can do something about loneliness in society. What helps is daily interpersonal contact. Chatter in the hallway, ringing on the way out. “An important first step can be to keep your eyes and ears open in your own social environment and get closer to others,” explains the Loneliness Competence Network.

Woman shopping sustainably, at checkout with cashier

Even daily encounters can help overcome chronic loneliness.Photo: iStockphoto/Monkeybusinessimages

But social and political measures are also needed. This also includes raising awareness in the community. Because: “For many people, loneliness is associated with feelings of shame and guilt, which make it difficult to talk about loneliness. For many of those affected, this makes escaping loneliness even more difficult.” Therefore, low-threshold offers of help and support are also important.

Ultimately, unity must be taken into account in various spheres of society.