• November 15th, 2019

Let us answer the question ‘are you alone, or lonely?’ Beware the monster of loneliness.


Lawrence Kamwi

Nine years after I first received it, I do not only keep the following SMS as a souvenir. I use it as a reminder of one of the lowest points in my life, and my subsequent determination to overcome it.

   “I think loneliness creates a void; a void that comes from deep down your soul. It changes you; it steals away your happiness. It brings a constant sadness that’s only seen when you smile because the smile does not reach your eyes. Only when you fill the void, can you fully enjoy living. I feel as if I am intruding in your life. I have no idea, what part, if any I should play. 

You honestly don’t mean to tell me that you would still be talking to me if I treated you the way you treat me. I also think I don’t want to portray fake feelings. I am willing to be patient because I understand what you need but I would be doing myself an injustice if I did not tell you how I feel.” 

It is undeniable that most of us will take up residence in that nadir or low point at some time in our lives. Take note; it is not planned. It could be the aftermath of a bereavement; a breakup with a friend or lover; moving to a new place or, when we feel excluded from a social gathering.

I keep the SMS today as part of my teaching and learning resources. It scared me. It obviously suggested that someone had invested time in studying me. Her conclusions led me onto a dating site – if only to escape the tag of loneliness. It did not work.   Clever and opinionated answers quickly put me off. One response asked “are they real people here – no ghosts or robots please!” Another honestly confessed that “I am not Mother Theresa.” A third declared: “I am done with frogs.”

But the SMS had, without doubt, raised serious concerns. The medical world has added “chronic loneliness” to the list of ills we must contend with. Loneliness is not simply about being alone. (It is certainly not the Home Alone series!). Loneliness is the difference between one’s desired and the actual level of social connection.”   

“In other words, people can be socially isolated and not feel lonely; they simply prefer a more hermitic existence. Likewise, people can feel lonely even when surrounded by lots of people, especially if the relationships are not emotionally rewarding.”    

Some people are happy on their own. Loneliness is however being fuelled by a variety of things, including work demands, improper sleep schedules, not spending enough quality time with family or socializing with friends, and a lack of ‘me time.’ In children, it is characterized by all kinds of problems. “Failure to be socially connected to peers is the real reason for most school dropouts. It sets in motion a course on which children spin their way to outcast status and develop delinquency and other forms of antisocial behaviour.  In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. It increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.”

To buttress the growing anxiety, the WebMD news site has also recently addressed loneliness. It wrote: “the social media paradox – pop psychologists have coined the term to describe how social media have allowed us to become more connected to other people than at any other time in history – and yet many Americans report feeling more lonely and isolated than ever before. The nation’s millennials (ages 23-37) and Gen Z adults (18-22) are ‘lonelier than any other U.S. demographic group.”  A chief medical officer says “loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”

Here is one of the proposed prescriptions: everyone has weaknesses. In sophisticated language, we call them vulnerabilities. Whether one is a leader, a businessperson or a child, we are challenged, nay, encouraged, to readily confront our vulnerabilities. 

   It is, after all, the (only) honest way to grow. In that situation of vulnerability, one is able to attract and benefit from the goodwill of those who wish him or her well.Some health experts argue that loneliness “should be targeted in public health campaigns like those designed to combat smoking, boosting immunizations, combat obesity, and prevent the spread of the AIDS virus.”

“Recent research has shown that people who are lonely and isolated are more likely to have heart disease and stroke, get immune system problems, and may even have a harder time recovering from cancer. It’s also clear that loneliness is closely linked to depression and may lead to an early death.” Early last year, UK prime minister Theresa May appointed a minister of loneliness. The media called her “the world’s first loneliness minister.” Not even her resignation put a damper on the mission to address loneliness. 

A new minister has since been appointed. In Japan, the government surveys those who are called hikikomori, which translates to “those who shut themselves in their homes.”    The University of Newcastle advances three theories of how loneliness may lead to ill health: “the first covers behaviour. Lacking encouragement from family or friends, the lonely may slip into unhealthy habits. The second is biological. Loneliness may raise levels of stress, say, or impede sleep, and in turn harm the body. The third is psychological since loneliness can augment depression and anxiety.”I will leave you with this tricky finding from a study by The Economist / Kaiser Family Foundation. It wonders – aloud: “Is it the other way round? Maybe sick people are more likely to be more lonely.” 


Staff Reporter
2019-05-24 09:44:16 | 5 months ago

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