Author Neni

09.09.2020 18:15

"Feeling Lonely?" - the Epidemic of Loneliness

aloneness and loneliness

Illustration: Mariam Kanchaveli

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Theodore, the main character in Spike Jonze’s movie ‘’HER’’ is surrounded by people. At first glance, there is nothing special about it. The camera conveniently moves through the smiling faces of the characters and then suddenly stops at him. It’s obvious that he is only physically present there. By the expression of his face the movie viewers guess that he feels alienated and doesn’t perceive reality comfortably even though he’s in the circle of his close friends.The situation described above might be familiar to the readers, or not. There is nothing unusual in either of the  positions, as the feeling of loneliness is a natural state and the perception of it is formed differently on an individual level. The world today is facing a challenge named the ‘’Epidemic of Loneliness’’ - it is serious enough, but ways to fight it are still  ambigious. Meanwhile, the indicated issue affects us all equally. In this article, we will try to clarify how we got here.

‘’Feeling lonely? Call This Number’’

At any corner of the streets of London today you will find flyers with the inscription: “Feeling lonely? Call this number’’. Britain has been battling a loneliness epidemic for the third year in a row. There is even a special position in the country - the Minister of Loneliness.

It is estimated that 9 million adults in the U.K are suffering from feelings of loneliness, of which 4 million are elderly. Most of them have no contact with the outside world, usually for more than a month. Two years after the appointment of the Minister of Loneliness in Britain, studies show that the situation hasn’t changed. Scientists describe the state of loneliness as a serious challenge and conclude the world today is facing an “epidemic of loneliness’’, therefore the question arises: Does the number of lonely people around the world really increase? Or is it just a natural feeling every human experiences at least once in their life? In fact, there is no empirical evidence that proves that the state of loneliness is deplorable or that the numbers are increasing every year. Nevertheless, this is the condition everyone shares: in 2019, two-thirds of Americans often, or always felt lonely. The state of loneliness itself isn’t a problem. It depends on our inner mood and behavior, how we perceive the situation. Thus, loneliness and being alone are two completely different concepts. 

Loneliness VS. Aloneness

You may actively send messages during the day, write posts on Facebook, and end the day in your friend circle, but that doesn’t mean you cannot experience loneliness. Loneliness is not just a physical condition. You may feel lonely even in the company of the closest friends, or be alone in your own room and feel comfortable. Loneliness and aloneness are not the same things. Social isolation doesn’t necessarily cause feelings of loneliness. In this case, isolation is a conscious state of being alone. The feeling of loneliness is experienced by each of us at least once in our lifetime, it is a natural state and there is nothing alarming about it, but the problem starts when the situation gets chronic. Scientists claim loneliness can cause a number of health problems. In the long run, loneliness may be just as detrimental to health as cigarette smoking.

Loneliness is not a mental problem in itself, although it may contribute to and even cause mental health problems. Feelings of loneliness can be caused for many reasons, a person’s thoughts and feelings are more meaningful compared to external factors. The perception of loneliness is very individual, everyone feels it in their own way. By some estimates, the degree of loneliness is higher among youngsters, who actively use social media. In general, loneliness is also affected by culture and societal norms.

Culture and society

American studies revealed that a quarter of the American population lives alone. This number is the highest among those recorded so far. Nowadays, marriage is no longer considered a necessary condition of adulthood. Therefore, more and more people reject accepted norms in society, refuse to be married and spend their whole life with the status of “single’’. It is so obvious that the norms of society are changing. Youngsters refuse to live with family and start living alone with ambitions of being independent. At the same time, scientists are spreading the assessment that being physically alone is one of the determinants of the condition of a sense of loneliness. Changing of societal norms may completely change the current agenda. The increasing number of unmarried people in the future will have an impact on the changing cultural, political, and economic agenda of the world. Therefore, it can be assumed that in the future, an increase in physical loneliness will also increase the number of mental loneliness. A recent study found that being physically alone among single people has a negative effect: 4 out of 10 single people reported they felt lonelier during the lockdown. The percentage of men is higher compared to women.

Loneliness is widely influenced by societal norms. There are various countries in the world where loneliness is considered as a “lifestyle’’. Japan is the clearest example of it. By some estimates, 20% of Japanese people remain “lifetime single’’. Suicide is a profound problem in the country. Scientists claim that Japanese people are absorbed in themselves and their own businesses. We may assume that one of the reasons for the increased indicator of loneliness is the severance of ties with family, which has a deplorable result on the nation.

The movie “HER’’ is about the future. We don’t have any empirical evidence to envisage whether we will be inevitably lonelier in the future or not. Although the main thing to know is: Loneliness is the human condition. The best we can do is to listen to ourselves and know what we really want.

16.09.2020 11:23


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