Please see selected recent isolation-related change below.
- What's New? - Isolation
- What's Changing? - Anxiety
- What's Changing? - Friendship
- What's Changing? - Gender
- What's Changing? - Health
- What's Changing? - Pain
- What's Changing? - Therapy
Research suggests that social support from AI can be positive, but it doesn’t provide all the benefits of social support from other people - especially when it comes to loneliness. When used in moderation, a relationship with an AI bot could provide positive functional and emotional benefits. But the key is understanding that although technology might make someone feel supported, it’s unlikely to help them build enough of a sense of belonging to stop them from feeling lonely.
- A Dutch soup brand launched a campaign in grocery stores to facilitate connections across different age groups. Next to the stores' usual bright blue baskets, Oma's Soep placed stacks of green ones, which feature the text "I'm open to a good chat," signalling a shopper's willingness to engage with strangers. The initiative isn't Oma's Soep's first effort at bridging the gap between young and old. As a social enterprise committed to reducing loneliness among older adults, the brand organises weekly soup deliveries by volunteers in 12 Dutch cities and hosts speed-dating nights, collective soup-cooking events and other social activities, often led by student volunteers.
- Psychologists haven't settled on a single definition of solitude or the nature of its "active ingredient," but many agree, at least when conducting their studies, that the key rests with whether participants feel alone. One's subjective perspective matters more than whether their objective circumstances would bear that out on closer inspection. In other words, if you feel alone, you probably are - at least for the purposes of your mental state.
- What role can supermarkets play in helping people feel less lonely at a time when social isolation is rising? According to Louise Grimmer, senior lecturer in retail marketing at the University of Tasmania, slow, "chatty" checkouts could be the answer. "For many, a visit to the supermarket may be the only time they interact with others," she says. "Sadly, increased use of technology, including self-serve checkouts and cashiers tasked with speedily processing customers, can make it challenging to have a conversation." “Chat checkouts” have been rolled out in Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo to cater to those who prefer a more social shopping experience.
- Since 1990, the number of men reporting that they have no close friends has jumped from three to 15%, and men’s social networks shrink more than women’s over their lifetimes.
- There can be a sense of deep shame attached to being lonely. Nobody wants to be thought of as unpopular or unlikeable. One consequence of that stigma, according to the US surgeon general Vivek Murthy, is a silent epidemic of loneliness. Research suggests loneliness rivals smoking and excessive drinking in terms of damaging health and shortening lives. This is not a trivial issue: an ageing population may also mean it is a growing epidemic.
- Professor Andrea Wigfield, director of the Centre for Loneliness Studies at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University, noted that loneliness is different from social isolation. The latter is an objective measure of whether a person lives alone, has friends and family, and belongs to social groups. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the self-reported, subjective feeling that one’s social relationships somehow fall short, in quantity or intimacy or both.
- In his youth, Kahil Gibran reflected, he felt doomed to insignificance, dwarfed by a universe that seemed immense and remote, but, as he matured, he learned to live with “the great aloneness which knows not what is far and what is near, nor what is small nor great” - to inhabit that elemental aloneness with a sense of boundless belonging to the universe and every other aloneness in it.
- Loneliness is sometimes defined as the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it. A study found that the brains of people who score higher in loneliness react in unique ways when viewing video content, while the brains of non-lonely individuals react similarly to each other.
- The results suggest that lonely individuals may literally view the world in a different way, perhaps finding less value in life moments that non-lonely individuals would enjoy.
- For older adults, experiences such as the loss of loved ones or the end of certain routines may contribute to the risk of loneliness. While estimates of its prevalence among older adults vary across the world, surveys suggest that up to about a third of older people in countries likes the US experience loneliness.
- “You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love,” the artist Louise Bourgeois wrote in her diary. For Maria Popova, how much trust and love we wrest from life and lavish upon life is largely a matter of how well we have befriended our existential loneliness - a fundamental fact of every human existence that coexists with our interconnectedness. Popova has also written about Rachel Carson on the relationship between loneliness and creativity, Barry Lopez on the cure for our existential loneliness and May Sarton’s ode to the art of being contentedly alone.
- Further reading:
- Big Think noted that, for more than seventy years, we’ve been warned about a looming epidemic of loneliness, from David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd in 1950 to The Lonely Century, published by Noreena Hertz in 2021. If the evidence was inconclusive before COVID now it is impossible to ignore: we are living in the aftermath of unprecedented social isolation. The social effects of the pandemic are pervasive and slow to fade: habits of socialising have shifted, as people meet online and work from home, and the muscle of in-person interaction withers.
- The Financial Times noted that, at most points in human history, being alone meant mortal danger and was to be avoided at all costs. Only in recent decades has our "risky" experiment with loneliness become almost mainstream. A high incidence of single households is now a mark of a wealthy society. This is partly a consequence of avoiding or delaying marriage and childbirth, and of single housing becoming more affordable, but it has implications. When we live alone we are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviour, such as smoking or eating badly, because no one else can see. Studies show that people who live by themselves are more likely to suffer from alcoholism, high blood pressure, insomnia and weak immune systems.
- Rising loneliness among teenagers was a problem even before the pandemic. If anyone is in a social recession, it is the young, argued Curio, adding that as well as helping them to catch up with missed school work, we urgently need to help young people feel more connected to each other, crucially, in ways that don’t involve their phones.
- The School of Life warned that there are plenty of people who look like good friends – but are not; and therefore many of us who don’t feel we should be lonely – but deep down very much are. When it comes to friendship, it is easy to confuse the genuine with the pretend article; both the real and the fake friend may show up for dinner, both may seem outwardly kind, both may claim to be loyal - but only one will live up to the true calling of the word ‘friend’ and so stand any chance of sparing us the ravages of loneliness.
- Arthur Schopenhauer believed that solitude was an opportunity for introspection, imagination, and contemplation with yourself. Research suggests that solitude of this kind allows us to be more creative, but in a busy world of today, do many of us ever let ourselves be solitary? Loneliness, however, is very different from solitude, and for many people, being alone is a scary and dangerous place.
- According to a major wellness study, Gen Z (i.e. people born between 1997-2012), is the loneliest generation - and was so even before COVID-19. The pandemic heightened Gen Z’s social isolation, but it isn’t the root cause. Only 38% of Gen Z said they ate meals every day with their family growing up, according to the Survey Center on American Life report, even though dinner may be the only time of the day when we can reconnect, leaving behind our individual pursuits, according to the Family Dinner Project.
- Most people hunger for intimacy and many wither without it. And yet, long before the present pandemic, with its forced isolation and social distancing, humans had begun building their own separate cages. Before modern times, very few human beings lived alone. Slowly, beginning not much more than a century ago, that changed. The New Yorker noted that, in the United States, more than one in four people now lives alone; in some parts of the country, especially big cities, that percentage is much higher.
- Gallup's research found that social wellbeing is one of the foundational elements of a thriving overall life - social time is an essential element of human nature and an important part of an engaging workplace. Research by Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found, for example, that being alone was one of the top correlates with not experiencing positive emotions such as enjoyment and happiness - and correlated with a high incidence of negative emotions such as stress, worry and sadness.
- Loneliness is a relatively new concept in academia, noted Aeon, beginning to trend in the mid-1960s, and becoming prominent only with Robert Weiss’s Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation (1973). But loneliness studies did not commence in a uniform, rigorous way until 1978, when the creation of a 20-item scale to measure one’s subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation – the so-called University of California, Los Angeles Loneliness Scale – lent accuracy and comparability between publications.
- Loneliness is a major health concern for the world’s populations – but research indicated that for city-dwellers, time spent in nature can significantly reduce feelings of isolation. The study used real-time data collected via a smartphone app and claims to be the first to assess how the environment affects loneliness. It found that feeling overcrowded increased loneliness by 39%, but when people were able to see trees or the sky, or hear birds, those feelings fell by 28%.
- A third of the world’s adults reported feeling lonely in 2021, rising to 50% in some regions. With loneliness tied to depression and cognitive decline, some brands started to tackle this situation. One example: "Sit here if you don't mind someone stopping to say hello!'" That's the invitation - in Polish, Hebrew and English - to connect with strangers on Krakow's park benches, known locally as Gaduławka, noted TrendWatching. Happy-to-chat benches were brought to Poland by a marketing specialist at Fulco System, which builds outdoor furniture and sponsored the initiative.
- Dutch supermarket Jumbo announced that 200 of its checkout counters would be turned into a 'Kletskassa', or chat checkouts. At a Kletskassa, customers aren't rushed and cashiers make time for a friendly chat. The family-owned supermarket chain targeted stores in neighbourhoods with high levels of loneliness, particularly among older adults. Cashiers are trained to recognise signs of loneliness, and stores are encouraged to launch local initiatives to combat isolation. Jumbo is also involved with the National Coalition Against Loneliness, which was developed by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The coalition mainly focuses on preventing older people from feeling isolated and disconnected.
- The thoughts we create shape the lives we live, hence it is to our benefit to occasionally spend some time alone, thinking for pleasure. While initially challenging, with a little practice, we have at our disposal the cognitive abilities to derive pleasure from simply entertaining our own thoughts. In a world in which the external environment demands so much of our attention, perhaps we could all benefit from occasionally retreating inwards to derive both meaning and pleasure from within, argued an article in Psyche.
- Psyche warned that when the relatively common isolation of single adulthood yields to the achievement of intimacy, middle adulthood presents many opportunities for generativity; not just parenting children, but also mentoring, teaching, passing on skills and knowledge that will benefit future generations. Without that wider perspective, stagnation narrows our focus from outside to inside, from productive engagement that contributes to the betterment of others to detachment from self and others. This has implications for the later stages of life. A failure to find a positive resolution of the crisis of generativity vs stagnation before confronting the last stage makes it more likely that despair might colour our final years.
- For The School of Life, it is almost certain that people who have devoted themselves to self-honesty and self-observation have an above average chance of meeting with incomprehension, irritation, censorship or boredom when they attempt to share the data from their own minds frankly in company. Their thoughts may sound more threatening, intense, oblique or tender than is allowed. That can feel lonely: there are simply fewer people at large committed to self-honesty and self-observation - and therefore up for exchanging notes on what it’s truly like to be alive.
- Loneliness is often characterised as someone (usually a person aged over 65) sitting alone, maybe in the dark, staring wistfully into the distance or longingly out of a window. Such images are misleading, however: researchers have actually found that those who report experiencing loneliness the most are young people, and such images of solitude do not match the experience of loneliness during adolescence and young adulthood. Those years are typically spent surrounded by people: at school, at home or at work. According to the BBC’s Loneliness Experiment, which surveyed 55,000 people from across the world, 40 per cent of those aged 16-24 said that they felt loneliness often or very often.
- The COVID-19 delta variant tripped up many office returns as countless companies delayed re-openings. While some may have been thankful for extra time at home, it took a toll on a "silent majority" who wished to return to their offices, claimed The New York Times. Making up this group were new hires, who understandably wanted face-time with new colleagues, people in tight or noisy homes and "social butterflies." One business professor noted remote work, with its inherent lack of work-home life boundaries, had compounded isolation and burnout for many.
- To be so intensely alone that you can hardly find the words to describe how you feel. To doubt your every word and action, even your sense of who you are. To have never experienced feeling truly known by another person. To fear others, yet long to connect with them. To yearn for the courage to take up space and speak out; to trust yourself and others enough to make your presence felt. This is what people diagnosed with ‘avoidant personality disorder’ – one of the more common personality disorders recognised by modern psychiatry – told Psyche it feels like to be them.
- Pre-pandemic, the Royal College of General Practitioners Wales called for all practices to have their own "social prescriber "in a bid to tackle GPs' workload, and "free up their time for those patients most in need of medical care". In its loneliness action plan it said: "Loneliness and social isolation can be as bad for patients as chronic long-term conditions. Loneliness puts people at a 50% increased risk of an early death. "It can be hard for people who are lonely to know where to turn for support. That's why we want to see a dedicated professional for every GP surgery, a 'social prescriber' so that people who are lonely or are at risk are supported to make the right connections."
- People affected by feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result of lockdowns could find it difficult to re-integrate as the world unlocks, campaigners warned. Those particularly affected by a lack of social contact could find themselves "left behind" and "stuck" as restrictions ease, the UK's Campaign to End Loneliness said.
- “One can never be alone enough to write,” Susan Sontag lamented in her journal. “People who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger,” the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky admonished the young. And yet, warns Maria Popova, despite the vast creative and psychological benefits of boredom, we have grown so afraid of it that we have unlearned - or refused to learn altogether - the essential art of being alone, so very necessary for contemplation and creative work.
- Increased loneliness has a negative impact on physical and mental health. One review of the science of loneliness found that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival over a set period of time compared with those with weaker social connections. Other studies have linked loneliness to cardiovascular disease, inflammation and depression.
- Quartz claimed that, if the isolation of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s just how much we rely on our relationships to get through the day. Locked down, the boundaries between connections “real” and imagined are increasingly non-existent. This crosses the realm into the parasocial - a parallel world where one-way connections with celebrities or fictional characters have all the intensity of a reciprocal relationship. These bonds, while first formally articulated in 1956, have existed wherever humans have been able to create “intimacy at a distance.” Recent research reveals parasocial relationships can shape everything from what we buy and who we vote for to how we feel on a daily basis.
- The Founding Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness explained that loneliness is simple in one sense - we all understand it, we have probably all felt it. But to address the underlying societal, community and personal-level factors that can cause loneliness requires a systems-approach. Many factors have combined to create a complex societal breakdown of connections, and this needs to be transformed into a clear vision for a different way of being together. The articulation of this vision and the opportunities to achieve it had to be put as succinctly and attractively as possible to people with the power to change policies, budgets, business practices and health priorities.
- Millions of people, young and old, faced loneliness, isolation and separation during the lockdown. UK Office for National Statistics research, based on surveys of more than 4,000 people, found the young were particularly likely to feel cut off - with 16 to 29-year-olds twice as likely as the over-70s to be experiencing loneliness in the pandemic.
- When people are lonely, lockdown doesn’t end. The isolation the pandemic imposed year is not that different from normal life for those who live alone, work alone, live hundreds of miles from their family, or have no family. There’s no real difference between not making plans (because of a virus) and not having plans (because last-minute cancellation is now socially acceptable). All of which can feel shameful. Loneliness is not about objective isolation, but the perception of it. The late neuroscientist John Cacioppo, known for his groundbreaking work on loneliness, said in a 2016 interview that “disconnection is differentially painful. Some people it hardly bothers at all, some people it disturbs so much as to become a pathology”. reported the Financial Times.
- As preliminary results came in from what Bloomberg called "The Great Work From Home Experiment of 2020", surveys suggested that most of us like it most of the time, except for one thing: people feel lonely. “Camaraderie” is the No. 1 thing people look forward to about an eventual return to the office. “Loneliness” is often at the top of the list of downsides to remote work. Feeling lonely is not only a side effect of working from home. Our social interactions outside work have also been curtailed. Normally, a teleworker can liven up their day with coffee-shop meetings or dinners with friends. Not during a pandemic. Nor are most working remotely entirely by choice. Many feel banished.
- Hannah Arendt believed that loneliness radically cuts people off from human connection. She defined loneliness as a kind of wilderness where a person feels deserted by all worldliness and human companionship, even when surrounded by others. The word she used in her mother tongue for loneliness was Verlassenheit – a state of being abandoned, or abandon-ness. Loneliness, she argued, is ‘among the most radical and desperate experiences of man’, because in loneliness we are unable to realise our full capacity for action as human beings. When we experience loneliness, we lose the ability to experience anything else; and, in loneliness, we are unable to make new beginnings.
- Big Think noted that isolation is especially damaging during childhood. Being separated from their peers predicts that children will have a difficult time acclimating to social situations as they age. A study published in Nature Neuroscience discovered the neural circuit mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon - in mice, at least. A team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified brain cells in the prefrontal cortex that regulate social behaviour as being responsible for also regulating social isolation. This particular role was previously unknown. Male mice were isolated for two weeks. The researchers noticed the mice were unable to activate these medial prefrontal cortex neurons after spending an extended period of time alone. They could no longer be social, even after being weaned back into society.
- The School of Life notes that it remains unhelpfully hard to be able to admit that one is lonely. Unless one has recently been widowed or just moved to a new city, there are no respectable-sounding explanations for why someone would find themselves without a sufficient number of friends. The supposition quickly forms that a person’s loneliness must be explained by something diseased and troubling within their character. If they are lonely, it is because there are things in their nature that merit for them to be left alone.
- Technology is clearly redefining how we communicate at work, collaborating on projects through Slack or organising workflows over Asana. However, it appears the ever–growing suite of collaboration tools at our disposal could be masking that we are getting further away from having meaningful interpersonal relationships at work and increasing workplace loneliness. A study commissioned by Totaljobs and Mind concluded that 60 per cent of employees had experienced isolation at work. That may be hard to fathom given the ultra-connected culture that thrives in most workplaces. But just because technology makes it easier to communicate with colleagues doesn’t mean we feel more connected to them.
- Being lonely or socially isolated can negatively affect our wellbeing. There is even research showing that it increases the risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression. Some researchers suggest that loneliness and social isolation lead to poorer health because they increase inflammation. Inflammation is when your body tells our immune system to produce chemicals to fight off infection or injury. It can also occur when we experience psychological or social stress.
- Chinese dating apps are exploiting the loneliness of India’s men. The country’s most downloaded dating app in 2019, L’amour, makes men pay at every step, but they hardly ever wind up with a date. Such predatory apps have captured the market between matrimony and porn in India, according to Delhi-based journalists who investigated the nation’s growing online dating market.
- However, Maria Popova comforts us that “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone,” according to artist Agnes Martin reflecting in her final years. “Oh comforting solitude, how favourable thou art to original thought!” wrote the founding father of neuroscience in his advice to young scientists. The poet Elizabeth Bishop believed that everyone should experience at least one prolonged period of solitude in life. For in true solitude, as Wendell Berry so memorably observed, “one’s inner voices become audible [and] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives” — an intuitive understanding of what psychologists have since found: that “fertile solitude” is a basic unit of a full and contented life.
- Finland has figured out a way to make new parenthood less lonely. The Nordic nation has some of the most generous family-leave benefits in the world, but all those days alone with small children can be isolating. Quartz explored Finnish family cafés, where parents gather for coffee, conversation, and commiseration.
- There are more uncontacted people in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon than anywhere else on the planet, with the number of isolated tribes believed to be more than 100.
- The biologist EO Wilson has warned that, as the extinction rate climbs, humans are entering “The Eremocene” – the Age of Loneliness. The most recent State of Nature report, found one in seven UK species to be at risk of disappearance. North America has lost 3 billion birds – 29% of the total population – in the past 50 years. The dryads and naiads of classical myth, those lively spirits of trees and streams, have long since been driven out. Now birds, mammals, plants and insects are vanishing too, leaving humans increasingly alone in the world.
- It’s not hard to understand the fear of being alone. What is far less well understood, and less eloquently or frequently described, is the enormously high price exacted on the other side of the equation. The fear, or more often simply the phobia, of being alone is perhaps responsible for more unhappy relationships, more throttling of psychological development, more claustrophobia and more pent up misery than almost any other. However, being alone does not have to mean being cut off from humanity; the state may indeed be the surest way to commune deeply with it, to fill our minds with the ideas and visions of billions of other humans across time and space – whose perspectives are too often snuffed out when we’re under immediate pressure to respond to someone else in the room. We may never therefore learn the true promise of community, discover our own interests or hold out for the connections we deserve until we make genuine peace with the prospect of a life by ourselves.
- In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, current Western crises aren't really about politics. It's that we're so lonely we can't see straight - and it bubbles out as anger: local communities are collapsing: sports clubs are disappearing; social clubs are dwindling, and in many cases, we don't know the neighbour two doors down. Work isn't what we'd hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships - life's fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall in many places. As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We're in danger of half of us believing different facts from the other half, and the digital revolution and social media throw fuel upon the fire.
- Student housing companies, along with a care home group, launched Together: an initiative connecting university students with elderly care home residents. The programme aims to foster relationships between students and seniors, after both were found to be suffering from high levels of loneliness: 70% of students surveyed felt lonely while at university, while approximately one-third of US seniors say they are lonely.
- A specially-constructed communal space for neighbours to gather, opened up in Chengdu, China in 2019. The hub was designed by the Chinese design studio Wutopia Lab, and is intended to counteract the experience of xiao qus - housing models with zero communal space - and bring residents together. After scanning their app to enter, Blue Heart visitors can access a range of spaces, including a reading nook, a shared kitchen and a party space, and services that include mail and package pickup. Located in a mall 15 minutes’ walking distance from residences, Blue Heart aimed to be just the first in a series of similar spaces set to open across China.
- Being open and vulnerable with loneliness, sadness and fear can help people find comfort and feel less alone, according to an artist sharing stories about how telling stories about feeling like an outsider helped him tap into an unexpected community and find a tiny sliver of light in the darkness.
- According to the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), we are still only just understanding the implications of widespread loneliness that characterises modern living. Neuroscientist John Cacioppo’s work published in ‘Loneliness: Human Nature and Need for Social Connection’ was one of the first to study the health impacts of loneliness. He found that lonely people have a 20% higher premature mortality rate and called for a culture shift that would see loneliness as important a public health issue as obesity.
- The Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK reported that three out of four doctors say they see between one and five people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely. Research tells us that this phenomenon goes far beyond the familiar stereotype of an isolated older person. A recent British Red Cross report found that 32 per cent of those aged 16-24 reported that in the previous two weeks they had often or always felt lonely.
- The percentage of single-person households in the UK has almost doubled over the last 50 years, with similar increases in the US, Germany and Japan. In urban capitals, the number of “solitaries” is reportedly even higher: 50% in Paris, 60% in Stockholm. In Midtown Manhattan, 94% of households are single-person.
- Technology is a complex factor in rising levels of anger and loneliness. The Global Risk Report notes that in a recent study, technology was cited as a major cause of loneliness and social isolation by 58% of survey respondents in the United States and 50% in the United Kingdom. But the same survey found that social media makes it easier for people to connect with others in a meaningful way, but that lonely people were no more likely to use social media.
- For The School of Life, our sense of isolation is never greater than when we run into the armies, widely distributed through society, of the closed-minded. Full of broadly benevolent intention, these types nevertheless keep a close eye on any signs of the more regrettable aspects of human nature and are ready to censor their appearance from the first. We learn to recognise their disapproval and to keep our shadow sides especially private in their vicinity – which protects our reputations, but increases our underlying sense of freakish isolation.
- There are many who don’t feel that they should be lonely - but deep down very much are. Even for those fortunate enough to have "friends", the fact remains that when it comes to friendship, it is desperately easy to confuse the genuine with the fake; both the real and the fake friend may show up for dinner, both may seem outwardly kind, both will claim to be loyal - but only one will live up to the true calling of the word friend and so stand any chance of helping others escape the ravages of loneliness.
- The self-employed sector now accounts for around 15% of some developed countries' workforce. As this group continues to grow at an increasing pace - the number of self-employed workers over the age of 65 has nearly tripled in the past decade - the unique set of challenges independent workers face need to be addressed, starting with freelancer isolation. A 2018 survey by Epson found that nearly half (48 per cent) of self-employed workers found it lonely.
- Academics have found that loneliness is an issue in urban as well as rural areas and in wealthy areas as well as deprived ones. They say loneliness is a particular problem among young adults - regardless of gender or socio-economic background. These adults are more likely to have a negative view of where they live, compounding their isolation.
- For The School of Life, the gap between the knowledge we have of ourselves and the public evidence of the nature of others can end up feeling intensely bewildering and painful. We may wonder why we may have ended up quite so strange, our lives so difficult, our characters so crooked. Our sense of isolation is never greater than when we run into the armies, widely distributed through society, of the closed-minded. Full of broadly benevolent intention, these types nevertheless keep a close eye on any signs of the more regrettable aspects of human nature and are ready to censor their appearance from the first. We learn to recognise their disapproval and to keep our shadow sides especially private in their vicinity – which protects our reputations, but increases our underlying sense of freakish isolation.
- McKinsey warned that, for women, being an “only” in the workplace is endemic. Twenty percent of the women in its Women in the Workplace report said they were commonly the only person of their gender in the room or one of very few. The figure is far higher in some sectors such as technology and engineering. For women of colour, that number rose to 45 percent. For men, it was just 7 percent.
- In 1997, about 5 percent of crimes in Japan were committed by people over the age of 65. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 20. Why, asked GZEROMedia? Some say Japan’s pension system isn’t generous enough and that the elderly are choosing prison, where they’re guaranteed three meals a day, over poverty. Others add that many older Japanese would rather live within a prison community than isolated and lonely on the outside. Whatever the cause, this may become a problem worth studying in all countries with fast-expanding populations of pensioners.
- Further reading:
- Loneliness reportedly affects over a million older adults across the UK alone; over half of people aged 75 and over live alone, and one in 10 people over 65 say they always or often feel lonely. And there’s evidence to show that feeling lonely can cause existing physical health problems such as frailty or chronic pain to get worse. But while awareness has grown about loneliness among older people, far less attention is given to how it affects young people. An NSPCC reportrevealed that in 2016-17, Childline counselled over 4,000 young people about loneliness. Students are affected too, with almost half admitting to feeling lonely during their time at university.
- Loneliness is spreading like a virus. Social isolation is bad for our physical health, so much so that governments around the world have launched initiatives to combat it. But how we truly treat this modern plague is a matter of debate, according to Quartz Obsession.
- UK café chain Costa Coffee partnered with The Chatty Cafe Scheme to launch ‘chatter and natter’ tables at 25 outlets across the country. A sign on each of the tables indicates that customers sitting there are happy to chat. The aim is to provide a safe space for cafe-goers – particularly those struggling with loneliness – to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
- A simple innovation, noted TrendWatching, but one that taps into some deep-running forces. Around one in 20 UK adults say they are often lonely, and while elderly people are affected the problem seems most common among young adults. Meanwhile, evidence of a loneliness epidemic in the UK echoes that in other affluent countries. Rising urbanisation is part of the picture; big cities can be lonely places and recent evidence also suggests that social media use can increase feelings of loneliness.
- Norway-based No Isolation is a technology company aimed at combatting loneliness. Its first two devices are aimed at seniors and children with long-term illness. AV1, its portable telepresence robot, is designed to be used in classrooms by children who can’t attend in person.
- Rural isolation amongst the elderly is a growing problem across the UK with forecasts putting over 50% of the rural population over 65 by 2030. The RSA explored how can we prevent this huge group of people being cut off and experiencing the devastating effects of loneliness.
Loneliness is arguably one of the biggest problem in modern societies. Young people feel lonely, old people feel lonely, new mothers feel lonely, students feel lonely. Many others too. It affects a lot of people. A recent report even suggested that chronic loneliness is becoming a public health issue.
The Economist warned that doctors and policymakers in the rich world are increasingly worried about loneliness. Campaigns to reduce it have been launched in Britain, Denmark and Australia. In Japan the government has surveyed hikikomori, or “people who shut themselves in their homes”. Last year Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon-general of the United States, called loneliness an epidemic, likening its impact on health to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
It’s been estimated that ½ million older people in the UK go without seeing or touching another human being for at least 5 days each week, according to The Guardian.
With globalisation, gentrification, urban transience, housing bubbles and digitisation changing our communities faster than ever before, older people in particular can feel left out and left behind, warned The Cares Family. But young people are increasingly feeling disconnected from community too. In fact, while older people are the loneliest age group in the UK, people from 21 to 35 are the second loneliest group.
- Meanwhile, 34% of UK homes have just one person living in them. In India, it's 5%, according to The Week.
A team from the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in searching for a genetic cause of loneliness. Their recent study, published in Nature Communications, investigated data from over 487,000 UK Biobank study participants in what might be the most wide-ranging research on the genetic causes of loneliness to date. The team discovered chemical markers that serve as potential gateways to loneliness. As they write, noted Big Think, roughly 25% of people in the UK over age 65 suffer from feeling alone. Loneliness is an integral factor in all-cause mortality, comparable to smoking and even more deadly than obesity. So they designed a study to address the chicken-or-egg nature of loneliness: do depressive symptoms and cognitive decline lead to social isolation or the reverse?
Loneliness is the common ground of terror - and not just the terror of totalitarian governments, of which Hannah Arendt was thinking when she wrote those words in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). For Aeon, loneliness also generates the sort of psychic terror that can creep up on a perfectly ordinary individual, cloaking everything in a mist of urgent fear and uncertainty.
There are few more shameful confessions to make than that we are lonely. The basic assumption is that no respectable person could ever feel isolated - unless they had just moved country or been widowed. Yet in truth, believes The School of Life, a high degree of loneliness is an inexorable part of being a sensitive, intelligent human. It’s a built-in feature of a complex existence.
Men’s hidden crisis, Slate tells us, is that they need more friends. At the same time, society seems to tell men that friendship is feminine - and men respond by not having friends. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that loneliness, not obesity or smoking, may become the biggest threat to men’s health.
Nearly half of all young Belgians feel lonely, according to a poll carried out by life assurer NN and the University of Ghent. The survey was more widespread, but the highest percentage came among those aged 20 to 34 (54.5%), with those aged 35 to 50 close behind on 53%. On the other hand, people who took part in volunteer work, a club or association or some organised cultural activity felt substantially better than others, the National Happiness Survey found.
- According to a 2014 University of Chicago study, loneliness can have a significant negative impact on physical health. It can increase the rate of atherosclerosis—the hardening of the arteries, increase the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, and decrease retention, which can even hurt learning and memory. What’s more, the lonely often make worse life choices and are more prone to substance abuse.
- Some research suggests loneliness is worse for you than smoking or obesity.It can even increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Seniors are often the focus. Those who face social isolation actually see a 14% increased risk of premature death.
- According to Big Think, a recent survey found that 47% of Americans lacked meaningful interpersonal interactions with a friend or family member on a daily basis. 43% reported having weak relationships, experiencing feelings of isolation, and an overall lack of companionship. 46% said they felt lonely often, while 47% reported feeling left out.
- A home doesn’t need formal living and dining spaces, argued Quartz, as while they’re meant to make us more social, they actually foster isolation.
What’s the cost of not having healthy attachments to other people, asked Aeon? Scientists who study loneliness have provided a clear answer: a 30 per cent higher risk of death when those reporting isolation at the time of the initial interview were followed up seven years later. That’s higher than the risk of dying from a well-known disease such as obesity.
- We often think being alone is something to fear. Yet it has been an integral component in the lives of many of our greatest thinkers. Are we more real when we are alone and perhaps also more alive?
- For many people, however, isolation is a clear and present danger. In old age, found The Conversation, many people experience a decline in their physical health, which can mean they are less confident about getting around and socialising as they used to. Loneliness affects over a million older adults across the UK; over half of people aged 75 and over live alone, and one in ten people over 65 say they always or often feel lonely. And there’s evidence to show that feeling lonely can cause existing physical health problems such as frailty or chronic pain to get worse.
- But while awareness has grown about loneliness among older people, far less attention is given to how it affects young people. An NSPCC reportrevealed that in 2016-17, Childline counselled over 4,000 young people about loneliness. Students are affected too, with almost half admitting to feeling lonely during their time at university. Indeed, a recent survey of university students suggested that loneliness is the leading predictor of mental distress.
- At TED, Sherry Turkle explained how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication - and asks us to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have.
- Reflecting the idea that "loneliness is a crowded room", there is some evidence that increasing technology-enabled opportunities for connection can actually be counterproductive for some people, as it just highlights their relative isolation.