Loneliness is the latest subject gaining traction in the media. A decision to shine a
light on such a state of being can only be welcomed. Once again, though, I sense it
being linked to the issue of ‘Mental Health’ in order to fit into the ‘national discussion’
currently being promoted. Put into the context of findings (in a recent self-selecting
questionnaire) that not only the (expected) result of a high percentage of elderly
people profess loneliness but so too do young people between 16 and 24, I fear that
we are yet again in danger of pathologizing large swathes of people and dragging
them unhelpfully and unnecessarily towards clinical solutions.
First, a clear distinction needs to be made between loneliness and being alone.
There are many people who are comfortable with their own company and many
more who prefer it. Conversely, we can feel lonely in the company of thousands
or even in the company of those closest to us.
In an increasingly gregarious world of social media, Facebook, Instagram and the
like, where the distinction between friends and acquaintances is blurred - if made at
all - the tendency to see oneself as lonely can be magnified. It can also be (and
probably is) utterly false. If it is all too easy to be lured into believing that everyone
else is doing okay, it is not too difficult to ask the question; ‘What does that say about
me?’ Many who are lonely may be reluctant to admit it, perhaps because of what
they think such an admission means to others or to themselves.
There are so many feelings that can accompany loneliness - sadness, fear,
embarrassment, desperation, shame among them. From our earliest age we are
likely to have absorbed a host of social pressures, one of the most potent being to
‘socialise’, to ‘make friends’; no surprises then that we believe our worth is measured
by the amount we have.
Loneliness might be described as a feeling deep inside that nobody knows or
understands the real you - that ‘nobody really gets me’. In some instances, this might
be accompanied by the belief that nobody would like you if they did. The additional,
necessary question; ‘Who is the real me?’ is often not considered or, if considered,
deflected, ignored or avoided. Yet it is difficult to know, in any logical sense, how
somebody else can get me if I don’t get myself; how can somebody else give me
what I want or need if I don’t really know what that is? Without that vital self-
knowledge, a self-defeating cycle - measuring our worth against the standards of
others - continues and the elusive chase for affirmation, friendship, love goes on.
Of course, all such feelings and needs are essential to human growth and positive
emotional development but they rarely need to be classified as problems or issues
with ‘mental health’.
To do so may not be contributing to anyone’s well-being; on the contrary, it may be
in danger of encouraging them to think of themselves as less well than they really
are. In my view, we must be ever-aware that well-intentioned crusades to make
people better can, in a rush of sound-bites and sensational statements, have the