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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

reverse effect.

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