Loneliness – Hope on the Horizon
March 10, 2021
Legendary advice columnist Pauline Philips, also known as “Dear Abby” once said, “Loneliness is the ultimate poverty” (1). In fact, the theme of loneliness runs quite deep in past and present society, inspiring music, literature, film and a long list of commercial products to alleviate what another great legend, Bob Dylan, described as “endless emptiness” (2). In more clinical terms, loneliness can be described as a subjective feeling related to a lack of social relations or simply a sense of disconnectedness or isolation (3). Many of us have felt lonely at one time or another in our lives – in small amounts, it can be normal and may even give us a moment to reflect and recharge.
However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has forced an entirely new significance to the sensation of loneliness, especially on such a vast, extensive and at times overwhelming level. The pandemic has also made the entire world zero-in on the global isolation crisis and its devastating effects. At times throughout the pandemic, it may even have had the paradoxical effect of connecting us, but as time passes, and we continue to isolate in order to remain safe, many are seriously struggling against the effects of this silent affliction.
We’ve never seen isolation to this extent, to the point where it extends to our family, friends, our work lives – even impromptu meetings with our neighbours at the end of the driveway, those casual run-ins that many of us have taken for granted. And for too many, the financial devastation brought on by job loss, has only worsened those feelings of loneliness and despair. As early as mid-March 2020, there was a steep increase in calls to mental health hotlines, and in places like Germany, psychologists working these hotlines noted that most callers were more afraid of being alone than being infected with COVID-19 (4).
The truth is that when it comes to our health, both mental and physical, loneliness is often associated with a history of depression, insomnia and lack of appetite, all of which can lead to a broad range of illnesses including cardiovascular and immune system diseases. In some extreme cases, it can lead to the misuse of alcohol and excessive drug use (5). For those in their senior years, this level of isolation can accelerate cognitive decline, interfering with day-to-day functioning and the overall quality of life (6). In younger people, social stresses and isolation are cited as the precipitating factors for suicide, which account for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year-olds living in Canada (7). In fact, every day we lose ten Canadians to suicide (8). Loneliness can do some serious damage and it affects all of us.
There is Hope…
But there is hope. Unlike any other time in history, we live in an era where we are able to not only empathize with those who feel isolated, but have made great strides in understanding the true meaning of loneliness, its causes and how best to treat it. As the stigma of mental illness continues to lift, those that feel lonely can reach out and let others know how they feel, knowing that many others feel the same - there is both hope and help available for those that feel alone or isolated.
If you are feeling lonely or depressed, please reach out to a family member, a friend or a neighbour. If you continue to have feelings of depression or experience suicidal thoughts, call 9-1-1 and/or call the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service at 1.833.456.4566 for immediate help. You can also call, Facebook messenger, live chat or text 686868 to be connected to the Crises Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
All of these resources are here for you and are available 24/7/365. Please reach out. You are loved. You are not alone.
1) Van Buren, Abigail. Abigail Van Buren Quotes. AZ Quotes. n.d.
2) Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series, Vol 8: Tell Tale Signs. Bob Dylan Newsletter. 2008.
3) Chandra Tiwari, Sarvada. Loneliness: A Disease? ResearchGate. December 2013.
4) Hertz, Noreena. The Lonely Century, How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Falling Apart (U.S.: Random House, 2021), page 8.
6) Underwood, Tom. Forgotten Senior Need Time, Care. AJC. August 11, 2012.
7) Crisis Services Canada. About Suicide in Canada. Crisis Services Canada. n.d.
8) Government of Canada. Suicide in Canada. Government of Canada. July 22, 2019.