We’re all getting lonelier. According to a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), one in 10 people in the UK feel lonely. If anything this sounds rather low, but half of those surveyed also believe we are getting lonelier in general. This all seems counter-intuitive. In a world where we can get in touch with anyone without leaving bed, never mind the house, how can we feel less connected? And what effect does it have?
In a comprehensive survey covering over three million people, examining social isolation, living alone and the general feeling of loneliness, the Daily Express found that these factors resulted in a 30% higher risk of early death – “as big a killer as obesity and as dangerous as heavy smoking”, as the paper put it.
Around half of England’s over 75s live alone and cite the television as their main form of company. Young people are affected too, by situations such as moving to a new area for work, or moving in with strangers at university. Not having a close confidant at home, work or university can lead to bottling of emotions; a third of people surveyed by MHF became depressed as a result of loneliness.
In my experience, just because it’s easy to speak to people online doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel able to do so. You don’t want to feel like you’re bothering them, or being a weirdo. So many people use their online presence to hide their own loneliness, an airbrushed version of their own reality and, in turn, others feel even more isolated – the rest of the world is out there having a great time while I’m sitting in my room, alone, again.
Yet it would do none of us any harm to take the plunge and send someone a message asking how they’re getting on. It could benefit both parties – the statistics suggest that we’re not alone in our loneliness.
[Ally Shaw – @radalias]