Loneliness – A Hidden Suffering of the Modern Age
Over recent times we have built cities that lead to isolation, expected people to take responsibility for themselves and created communities where people find it hard to make genuine human connections. Patricia Lauria, Chairperson of the charity Friends for Good, the first of its kind in Australia to work solely on this issue, has said that “loneliness is a hidden suffering of our modern age. Although Australia lacks sufficient longitudinal research about the impacts of loneliness there is evidence all around us”. Friends for Good has started asking people about their experiences.
“Our Time We Talked survey has started scratching the surface of this difficult issue” Patricia outlined. The survey has found from 514 respondents that 23% feel lonely right now and 75% believe it is hard to talk about. “This problem is compounded by the stigma that surrounds it, we need to make it ok for people to talk about and look for the connections they need” she said. Without this, many studies have shown that people are at greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and even earlier death. According to the Friends for Good leader “we can’t ignore the warning signs, we need to take action”.
The charity has already collected research from around the world that people can access to find out about loneliness on their website: www.friendsforgood.org.au created a platform for people to speak anonymously about loneliness and actively reaches out on social media. Now the group are launching Friend Line, a new telephone service for people to chat to one another and hopefully prevent or alleviate the loneliness many people feel.
“This is a complex problem and one that needs many responses – research, education and specific services, we are calling on government and the community to work together on this issue,” according to the charity head, “as the name of our survey suggests it’s Time We Talked about loneliness”.
For more information or comment please contact:
Chairperson and CEO
Friends for Good Inc.
Ph: 0414 34 1985
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Out here in the Mallee there are a lot of sad cases that have “washed up” on lonely shores of the region. In the days of the soldier settler, some would say that the existance of the local hotel was what kept many of them sane…if not sober..
I recall a woman telling me of her uncle who was a soldier settler..
“He was a bachelor, you see.
He was a soldier-settler
Out in the mallee scrub…
And he died…
Father went through his things
But he couldn’t throw these out…”
She “thumbed” out the pockets of her breeks.
“They have his army number on them, see !
He was a lovely old man , my Uncle Bill.”
But I have seen a few “Uncle Bills”,
Spurned or turned from a woman’s embrace.
Uncertain and clumsy in affection
Toward sisters or brothers children…
“The breeks were army issue,
Part of the “deal” for soldier-settlers…
God only knows how he struggled out there.”
A soldier-settler alone in the mallee.
“God only knows.”
Loneliness, depending on definition. is found everywhere. Just back from a week in Broadbeach – the centre of the impending Commonwealth Games – and whether one is walking on the beach, lunching in the various pubs and clubs, gambling in the Casino or whatever – there are any number of lonely people who desperately want to converse. Not necessarily about important matters (my definition) but perhaps just about human interaction?
As always, my wife is happy to oblige.
A real issue for people is that while we are designed, as a rule to be communal beings, cities just pile more and more people into a limited space and that actually increases the risk of people feeling isolated. Our brains can cope with “knowing” about 150 people (“the Dunbar number”) – we can have contact with lots more, but in terms of actually having meaningful relationships, 150 is, on average about the maximum number we can cope with. Above that, our brains can’t keep up. It is no coincidence that 150 is a significant number in the military – a commander, for example, can’t know well many more than 150 soldiers and where tasks have to be allocated, a commander needs to be able to readily choose soldiers who have the appropriate skills for a particular task. This in facts goes back to Roman legions – and beyond and there are cultures where group sizes are strictly capped at 150 or thereabouts. This is in part why the social relationships in a country town are very different to those in cities.
One of the most rude and irritating traits in the modern era is that of people walking around with their heads buried in their mobile. Personally, this really “gets up my nose”, but in the context of isolation in cities, I can understand why people resort to the inane and impersonal “communication” their phones offer (we have all heard the loud, meaningless and empty prattle of people “talking” on mobiles on the bus or a train). Add to that the results of decades of consumerism/materialism – to get us to spend ever more, marketers actually need to create barriers between people – endless spending on stuff that isn’t needed requires abject selfishness and personal narcissism and that further breaks down personal relations. We have become suspicious of our neighbours and peers – in case they have a bigger house, a bigger SUV, an SUV with a more exclusive personalised number plate, have more exotic holidays, a more expensive BBQ, more solar panels and a bigger inverter, their kids go to a more expensive school – the list goes on – we now hate when we see someone with “stuff” that we don’t have, want and think we deserve. But one price for this is the persistent breakdown of social ties. Once, people in a society generally felt they were all “in it together” – now it’s every person for themselves.
Loneliness is a weird thing. I live by myself out in the country and can happily go weeks or even months without seeing another person, but I’m not lonely. My ex- lives in New Zealand now, shares a house with her friend, sees people every day, and is one of the most painfully lonely people I’ve ever known.
When I lived in Melbourne and before that, in Sydney, I used to enjoy going out to free public lectures given by scientists, and meetings of computer people and science folk. That contact was wonderful and great fun, but I enjoy being a hermit for different reasons.
I have a friend who I help sometimes with his computer. He seems very lonely too, despite having lots of contact with many people.
It is puzzling. There are so many ways now to meet people who have similar interests, both online and in real life (IRL), yet many people seem to feel isolated. There are many community groups and clubs on every conceivable topic: public talks, reading groups, walking groups, sewing and knitting circles, men’s sheds, maker groups, car enthusiasts, dog and cat fanciers, wildlife rescue groups, dancing groups, art groups, public speaking societies, Alcoholics Anonymous, cycling clubs, bird watchers, native plant associations, gardening clubs, computer clubs, writing groups, citizen science get-togethers, choirs, and on and on…
If we have this loneliness afflicting people in large numbers now, what is it going to be like when massive automation ends most jobs?
Loneliness; the sadness that comes from feeling that one lacks friends or company.
I often feel much lonelier when surrounded by other humans than I do when I am truly alone.
‘As you try to engage with me I’m gauging the distance
until struck by an instance of random surprise,
and I find that I gaze with dispassioned amazement
at the droplets that are forming in the folds of your eyes.
You mention the cold in my basilisk stare
and my constant despair at the state of mankind,
and you find an insistence about this persistent
resistance to sharing the thoughts in my mind.
Should I reach for your hand like I’d reach for a star?
Should I reach for a jar of anaesthia for clarity?
There’s no harder task or ask than the removal
of cognitive dissonance or lucid disparity.
Should I cry to the wind, should I pray to the oceans,
to erode the obstructions between you and me,
or surrender the will of my bones to the flow,
like a droplet of rain falling into the sea?
You ask how to change the estrangement that’s forming
within our arrangement, unfortunately,
the answer may not lie within you if the problem’s with me.
Problem terminologically defined? Well it’s been suggested:
mildly autistic or severe Asperger’s,
ADHD (with bonus Ritalin for the purchase),
manic depressive manifesting cannabis psychosis,
dissociate personalities turning schizophrenic by process.
These perspicacious assessments of my mental situation
boil down to generic platitudes to justify repeat medication,
progress in programmes of embetterment, script fed,
as pharmaceutical spak-fill for the cracks within my head.
Such dysfunctions and divergences of mind, all so easy to define
when they shine forth so indicatively.
Confused conclusion, just part of a profusion of problems with me.
My mind’s back in the room, and I assume that the atmosphere of gloom
Is a consequence of the impart of my words,
and the notion that sustaining some devotion might normalise my emotions
is a concept that is seeming less absurd.
So I’ll reach for your hand, try to catch that falling star.
I’ll soften up my gaze, try to counterfeit compassion.
I’ll refrain from referring to our species as rank faeces,
and assess our future prospects in a less depressive fashion.
I know the wind and the ocean are not at my beck and call,
and all obstructions to connections are constructions of the self.
The flow of the verse has no pre-booked destination,
and no particular interest in my state of mental health.
But, should we walk hand in hand to try and reach our promised land,
please try to understand that within all the difficulties,
there is no clear marked map to navigate the minefield of problems with me…
which are a fraction of one facet of the myriad of problems with we.’
Ballarat, I have been puzzling over this now, since reading the article above, but I think you may have put your finger on it.
Perhaps loneliness has its origin in the interactions that we learn while we’re growing up. If we pass through childhood and into adulthood feeling supported by those around us and safe from ridicule then perhaps loneliness, on the rare occasions it visits, doesn’t stay long. On the other hand, if our experiences from child to adult teach us to never trust those around us because they’ll be cruel or laugh at our thoughts then perhaps we will never put ourselves out there to touch or be touched by other minds, and loneliness becomes a constant attendant.
I don’t think it’s to do with whether we’re surrounded by people or not; we can feel different, anxious, and alone in a crowd without feeling lonely. I don’t think it’s to do with consumerist society or the pace of life. I doubt that loneliness is worsening either; it’s probably a malaise that’s always afflicted some people.
Making a child or teen feel always secure and safe and accepted is good, but how do you undo a lifetime of insecurity? Perhaps by helping people feel accepted unconditionally. That can be difficult if the person has learned annoying or upsetting habits, or if the people around them are inflexible and bigoted, though this can be less of a problem if the lonely person seeks out people similar to them. They must also learn to enjoy their own company so that being alone can be a pleasant experience instead of a hole that must be filled with other people.
Terrific and timely article.
I agree with the author’s opening line:
Which is what laissez-faire libertarian politics and economics have wrought.
Thatcher once opined there is no such thing as society, then proceeded to bring her words to fruition. Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy.
There have always been lonely people for many reasons. I know some of the loneliest times of my life have been when in a relationship.
I, like others, am most comfortable with myself and the most excellent company of animals – both my ‘live-in’ companions and those which abound in the bushland around my home. Friends and family in small doses partly due to my own preferences and chronic illness.
That said, corvus boreus’ prose struck a deep cord – sometimes I pretend to emotions I am not necessarily feeling.
Which brings me to the idea of well-meaning souls such as Patricia Lauria. How do we cure the loneliness within families?
Or people experiencing profound loneliness who have moved to new surrounds – be they immigrants or refugees, or those relocated from the country to cities. Being alone in a crowd is possibly the worst form of loneliness.
I support Patricia’s endeavour and wish her good luck and to remember being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely.
Yes loneliness is a growing result of the frenetic pace that life is lived and worked at in the 21st century, actually for me it began in 1978 when I was unlucky enough to gain a job with an Australian multinational and for the next 21 years I was worked like a slave with constant threats of being sacked (though looking back, this would never have happened) as I had a mortgage and they reminded me constantly.
The pressure that put on my marriage was enormous and of course it broke down, and I experienced loneliness for the first time in my life, from there I was lucky enough to meet my present wife, but I do feel sorry for my twin brother who suffers from loneliness after two bad marriages. I see him most days but I know he is a person who needs a relationship to feel happy, as do I. Though now in my later years I have learnt to be comfortable with my own company.
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