Loneliness has become an epidemic in the modern world with more than 40 percent of the population in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom admitting to feeling lonely, a figure which would suggest that the rate of loneliness has doubled in the past 40 years. An ironic fact when you consider the fact that with the advent of social media people are more connected than ever before. Whilst the jury is still out on whether or not social media actually makes us lonelier, the fact that loneliness is on the rise is an alarming matter and one that should not be trifled with.
Loneliness, an unpleasant state of mind that one enters when there is a discrepancy between a person's actual social relations and the person's needed or preferred the level of social contact is often overlooked as nothing more than a result of one's introverted nature which is quite a huge misconception. First of all, loneliness isn't something that only affects introverts in fact, the people who thrive on social interactions may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of loneliness when these social needs are not met. Overall, it is safe to say that loneliness doesn't target a specific personality group but rather, affects everyone and as such, we must become more aware of its horrors.
Loneliness has a large toll on our body both physically and mentally, causing increased vascular resistance which can, in turn, lead to higher blood pressure levels and cardiovascular diseases. Loneliness, if left as is can also manifest into various psychotic disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and even dementia. All in all, when put into perspective chronic loneliness increases your chance of early death by 45% which is surprisingly enough higher than that of both excessive smoking and air pollution combined.
And yet, we don't see posters or media outlets often focusing on this topic of great import. Much like most other mental disorders, loneliness is promptly ignored until it is too late. This may partly be because of the social stigma associated with loneliness, many people would be more open to identify themselves as depressed and talk about their depression rather than admit that they are lonely and for quite a simple, straightforward reason: Being a loner in our society is, in the eyes of many, equivalent to being a loser. This sort of mindset makes it undeniably harder for those suffering from loneliness to be open about it and consequentially harder for those who care enough to take the right action.
Identifying a person as lonely is an entire ordeal in itself. However, some common signs and symptoms such as irregular sleep patterns, a decreased appetite, substance abuse and a refusal to reciprocate social connection and interaction are in fact exhibited by individuals suffering from chronic loneliness. If you feel like you or someone you know is showing signs and symptoms of chronic loneliness then there are in fact a few things that you can do to help them combat it. However, there is something that must be clear: not under any condition should the help arise from pity or a crude sense of moral obligation, whilst these occur naturally when you set out to help someone, your ambitions and actions should be firmly rooted in care and respect for the other person.
First of all, being lonely doesn't equal to not having friends. More often than not, it is an inability to connect with these friends on a deeper level that causes loneliness and as such, a small gesture for a short brunch and some heart to heart conversation is much better than an invitation to some grandiose party they wouldn't be a part of otherwise. And it is of great import that you respect the boundaries of the other person and make sure that if your actions are making them even more uncomfortable then it may be best to back out a bit. After all, your entire point should be to better their mental well being and not to cause them distress.
Loneliness is, in many ways akin to hunger. A primal urge that motivates us to form meaningful social connections and similar to how we help those that are starving, it is of paramount importance that we help those that have been boxed into a corner by the demon called “loneliness”. A demon, which if not stopped is going to devour them and endanger their mental and physical well being.