This week marks Loneliness Awareness Week, started four years ago by the Marmalade Trust to raise awareness of the natural human condition, loneliness, and to encourage people to talk about their experience with it. Loneliness has been shown to have detrimental effects on personal well-being and life quality, leading to poor health.
Understanding and awareness of this topic is something that can benefit everyone within society. Expanding our knowledge of what loneliness is , how to recognise it and what we can do to help resolve it is more important to our survival than we might realise.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness affects everyone from time to time, whether we’re moving country, changing jobs or simply lack close connections in life. However, studies have shown that loneliness is widespread within our communities, with over 9 million people in the U.K. alone admitting to feeling lonely often or always.
With the advent of technology, our world has become a place of constant connection, yet the chronic problem of loneliness is only getting worse. One thing is for sure, loneliness is an individual feeling, with all of us experiencing and perceiving it in our own way.
We have become familiar with the term “physical isolation” in recent times, where there is a physical separation from others. However, physical isolation does not categorically mean an individual is lonely. Loneliness is an emotional experience where an individual notices a lack of connection with others. There is perception that we are lonely due to a lack of social skills or due to our own failings as individuals but it’s important to remember that even those we perceive to be socially fulfilled, feel loneliness also.
Why is loneliness a concept in our lives?
Looking back at our ancestors, the earliest humans depended on each other to survive. Our food, shelter, protection from predators and basic existence depended on our cooperation with others within small tribes of people. Back then, being shunned by the tribe or being left alone essentially meant you might not survive. Our brains developed a mechanism by which we would feel physical pain when we recognised a threat to our social connections, at the time, meaning life or death. Social pain and loneliness became hardwired into our psyche, staying with us to this very day. Loneliness basically means you are aware of your social needs as a human.
Loneliness in Social Care
The issue of loneliness within Health and Social Care settings has become more prominent in the last few months and years. Recent surveys and studies have shown worrying levels of loneliness and have highlighted the need for awareness and solutions; Mencap discovered that a person with a learning disability is seven times more likely to experience loneliness than the general population.The rate of loneliness is up to 30% higher in older people in care homes as opposed to those living independently.
The causes an individual’s loneliness can be complex but the experience of it is without doubt, a common experience.Individuals living within social care settings face more barriers to social interactions and a feeling of community belonging. Not only can it be physically more difficult to access the outside world, certain stigmas around the concept of loneliness make seeking out desired social interactions near impossible.
Working towards a less lonely society
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, that being alone does not mean you are lonely. We have seen technology used in powerful ways, with video calls substituting face to face meet ups and the Zoom-quiz becoming the new pub quiz.
One-to-one conversations, getting to the root of an individual’s loneliness and working towards a solution can be all that is needed at times. As each person’s perspective and experience of loneliness can be different, it is important to realise the relief of loneliness can come in a variety of forms. As part of this year’s campaign, Marmalade Trust are taking the ‘one’ out of loneliness to signify one less lonely voice, encouraging people to talk about loneliness openly.
With the easing of restrictions, meeting face to face will become possible again. Community groups can give people a sense of belonging. Working towards a common goal or sharing a common interest with others helps people to feel involved and important to the collective.
Befriending schemes are also in place, where volunteers provide companionship to older people who would like extra social interaction either by visiting or calling regularly. This is not only beneficial to the older people but also to the volunteers, who might find friendship they would never have considered before.
Aspirico’s iplanit Family Portal assists those in care settings to feel less socially isolated; they can send messages and share media with family members and their circle of support within a secure environment. The person supported can also have an overview of their care plans and outcomes through the portal , giving vital input into exactly what they want and need – this could be as simple as wanting to join a local club or taking an exercise class. At the person’s request, their social circle can also view their plans and goals, creating a person-focused online community.
Awareness is the first step to combating the feeling of being alone. If steps are taken in all aspects of living, creating an integrated approach to this human emotion we can become less lonely as a society and more fulfilled in our lives. Finding our tribe and nurturing our social role within it is vital across all areas of society – young, old, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health issues, people with physical disabilities – and everyone in between.