Loneliness Bad For You? Well, it Might Not Be Good

We knew that! But research it seems, thinks that social isolation can be as bad for you as smoking!

OK, I’ll confess two things straight away; first, I haven’t read the research and second I’m already cynical. I know, I know, it’s not good to be cynical of something I haven’t read but I’m going to be anyway. If you want to tell me how cross you are about that then please do so in the comments box below. But still, I have read a few online articles since catching the headlines around this and I’ve seen some interesting points and learned a few things.

Loneliness Isn’t On its Own

Woman with cigarette
Loneliness Bad for You: as bad as Smoking?
photo credit: sicoactiva

So yes, the first thing that struck me was that some people, for whatever reason, might prefer their own company. That is not loneliness. Being on your own might mean that you feel comfortable with yourself or self-assured. That you don’t need others to get by. It doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy company, just that you can get by without it.

There is a kind of loneliness that comes from not wanting other people around you that could be because of depression, anger or low self-esteem and that is different and probably, not a good thing. I imagine that the bad-for-you kind of loneliness is more attributable to other things. Maybe a person is stuck on their own and missing the company of others. This could be for many reasons including bereavement, disability, poverty or addictions or maybe old age. I’m not saying that any of those thing equate to loneliness or determine you will be lonely only that loneliness might be a consequence. What I am suggesting here is that if someone thinks that they want to be on their own, that shouldn’t mean they are lonely and it shouldn’t be bad for you like smoking is.

Do People Need People?

Well of course I’m going to say yes to that! Firstly, I’m a social worker and if people didn’t need others, I would probably be out of a job. On a very fundamental level we need people to build things like houses and roads; to do things like make electricity and toothpaste and to be things like doctors, teachers and politicians. Well, perhaps not politicians. All of those things and much more go towards making up society so as much as you need that, you need people. The Daily Mail article reporting on the research findings states:

According to a study the support of family, friends and neighbours can increase your chances of living to a healthy old age by 50 per cent.

If we have people and especially friends and family around us, there are health benefits.  The central purpose of the Neighbourgood is to connect people. Especially people that need help and support find others who can provide it. That might be because of a long-term need resulting from disability or something more temporary caused say, by bereavement or mental health difficulties. I think people need people to help and be helped and in time, the Neighbourgood will help bring those people together.

Shadows of People
People Need People
photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

When Loneliness isn’t a Choice

I said or implied earlier that when people choose to be alone it isn’t loneliness. Surely loneliness occurs when people who don’t want to be, find themselves alone and that can be bad for them. If people can’t socialise or mix with others because of disability, mental illness, poverty, drug or alcohol dependence or whatever, then that will compound difficulties and be bad for them.

I have recently watched a fabulous Swedish television series called The Bridge. Saga, one of the central characters has trouble with feelings and especially feeling other’s feelings. At times she is quite cut off and can appear rude and uncaring but the people around her keep reaching out to her and she earns the reputation of being a, “Good police officer.” Her colleagues are tolerant, generous and largely ignore her foibles and it seems that because of the success of her society, she is successful and accomplished. Her team needs her to help solve a series of complex crimes and she needed them to create an environment where she could contribute and function at her best. I know it is only television but it was quite life-affirming.

So often a person’s life situation can lead to isolation and loneliness. Of course, wherever possible such people have to do what they can to reach out or ask for help but once they reach that point they need others to meet them there and offer to connect. This kind of loneliness is bad for you and probably far more than smoking. In this context, it isn’t the loneliness alone that is causing the harm.

What do You Think?

Trying to work out cause and effect in relation to social problems isn’t easy. People are similar but not even twins are the same. Some of us cope with everything life throws our way whilst others buckle under pressure. Advice like, “Get a job,” “Pull yourself together,” “Save for the future” or “Go to college” might be acceptable for some but there is no single answer for everyone. Do you think loneliness has an antidote or is there a way to prevent it? If you have any ideas, post them in the comments section.

 

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