Is loneliness a 21st century pandemic?

Feeling lonely is an every day occurrence. We’ve all felt lonely at some point, and it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll feel it again in the future. With much of our human interaction being via technology these days, is it any wonder that we’re feeling isolated on a regular basis? Date nights get hijacked by Instagram potential or that never-resting group chat. Long distance-phone calls are replaced by a constant series of back and forth texts. The fact that Marmalade Trust only set up Loneliness Awareness Week in 2017 indicates that it has only recent been recognised as an extensive issue.

This year, Loneliness Awareness Week‘s theme of focus is reducing the stigma of loneliness. There are so many reasons why one could be lonely. Some may feel lonely in predicaments and situations that another might not feel lonely at all. The common phrase of feeling isolated in a crowd full of people is probably more relevant than ever. Even in times like your daily commute. Once upon a time, this was a regular occasion where daily small talk had the opportunity to spur into friendships. Today, you look around to see everyone’s head bowed over their lit-up screens. Everyone is totally unaware of what’s going on around them, let alone recognise their fellow regular commuters for a regular chat. It’s no surprise that we can be enveloped by other humans and still feel like the only one in the room.

Is this solely technology’s fault? We’re not just talking about people using their phones excessively. Technology has removed so much of our human interaction. We use self-service tills in supermarkets or get food shops delivered straight to our doorsteps. We use apps to buy train tickets then machines to get them checked. We buy books online and read them on devices instead of using the joys of a library. We’ve become so expectant of instant purchases and results that we don’t lift a finger to get them anymore. We’ve cut the communication corner in order to have everything immediately, but was it worth it?

Although those cases may seem small and irrelevant, it was that minuscule moments of real-life connection to another human that may have been the only one of it’s kind for some people. Now that those instances have been removed from our daily lives, do those people have anyone to talk to at all?

Some argue that technology is fixing the loneliness epidemic. For the fact that when we are alone physically, we can connect to others via text or social media. For some, having an Amazon Alexa in the house feels comforting. While that’s perfectly true, nothing can replace the physical emotion that comes with the affect of authentic human contact.

Loneliness Awareness Week is focusing on the stigma around feeling lonely. The Independent stated that a new YouGov poll revealed ‘that not wanting to burden others is the main reason people avoid reaching out to seek help when feeling isolated, with 75 per cent of people saying they didnโ€™t tell anyone despite having someone they could count on.’ The survey, which was taken by 2,114 adults showed that, contrary to standardised beliefs about elderly people feeling lonely, the loneliest people were in fact between the ages of 18 and 24. 75% of those declared feeling alone, which aligns with reports of students being some of the loneliest people in the country.

There’s evidence to suggest that technology is contributing to nationwide loneliness, but there’s also argument’s for it helping. Regardless to whether technology has isolated or helped you, this issue of loneliness seems to be worse than ever here in the 21st century. This Loneliness Awareness Week, do what you can to help reduce the stigma. Open up if you feel alone, reach out to others if you suspect they feel it too. Encourage talking, it can only make things better.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight studies and encourage conversation. They are for informational purposes only. Although this article features advice from professionals, we are not medically trained to offer any further advice, and it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied on for specific medical advice. If you are experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety and/or depression, please reach out to a medical practitioner for help. If you need extra help, Mind CharityThe Mental Health Foundation and Samaritans all offer immediate help at any time.

Feature image: Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash