Loneliness. An epidemic that is mobilizing English Government and its worrying many western countries
Is it only an English problem? – See video
By the 21st century, loneliness has become ubiquitous. Commentators call it “an epidemic,” a condition akin to “leprosy,” and a “silent plague” of civilization. This year, the U.K. went so far as to appoint a Minister for Loneliness. Yet loneliness is not a universal condition; nor is it a purely visceral, internal experience. It is less a single emotion and more a complex cluster of feelings, composed of anger, grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, and shame. It also has social and political dimensions, shifting through time according to ideas about the self, God, and the natural world. Loneliness, in other words, has a history.
The term “loneliness” first crops up in English around 1800. Before then, the closest word was “oneliness,” simply the state of being alone. As with solitude — from the Latin “solus” which meant “alone” — “loneliness” was not colored by any suggestion of emotional lack. Solitude or loneliness was not unhealthy or undesirable, but rather a necessary space for reflection with God, or with one’s deepest thoughts. Since God was always nearby, a person was never truly alone. Skip forward a century or two, however, and the use of “loneliness” — burdened with associations of emptiness and the absence of social connection — had well and truly surpassed oneliness. What happened?
- Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
- Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
- Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. (Valtorta et al, 2016) (James et al, 2011) (Cacioppo et al, 2006)
- Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015). Read more HERE
Tacking measures to tackle social isolation
United Kingdom’s Government is taking measures to stop this trend. As we said above an entire Ministry was created in United Kindom with this aim, also a spontaneous movement is making a campaign in that country called Project of Loneliness.
The latest news is an official campaign that begins by doctors which will prescribe social activities as part of a new strategy to tackle social isolation, ministers have announced.
Also, a pilot campaign using Royal Post starts this week which will see postmen and women halt their rounds to talk to people who are lonely amid fears growing numbers of people are isolated and suffering health problems as a result. The plan will be trialled in three areas – Liverpool, New Maldon near London and Whitby – before being rolled out more widely if it is successful (The Telegraph, October 15, 2018).
From a bioethics point of view, we have a question about these first measures. Could be the loneliness epidemic an effect of our cultural values that must be approached from early education?