Modern way of life leading to loneliness, according to recent report
According to a new report released by the Mental Health Foundation, relationships
that are vital to health and well-being are under threat by modern life, which
can isolate people from one another and lead to loneliness. UK-wide research
carried out for The Lonely Society? shows that one in ten people often feel
lonely (11%) and half think that people are getting lonelier in general (48%).
- One in ten people feel lonely often
- Loneliness a common experience yet 'embarrassing to admit'
- Feeling alone linked to physical and mental ill health
The report says the way in which people now live is impacting on their ability
to connect with others. More people live alone: the percentage of households
occupied by one person doubled from 6% in 1972 to 12% in 2008. The divorce rate
has almost doubled in the past 50 years and the number of lone parent households
is rising. People are living longer but many older people are doing so alone.
Because of people pursuing careers and education opportunities, many now live
further away from their families and the communities they grew up in. Figures
show that one in three people would like to live closer to their family to see
them more often (35%).
Old-style communities are in decline and the closure of local amenities such
as post offices and working men's clubs have had an impact on people for whom
they were a focal point, particularly those living on the margins of society
and vulnerable to loneliness, such as the elderly, people out of work or those
living with a disability.
Loneliness can affect people of all ages
Research in The Lonely Society? illustrates that feeling lonely is not only
common among the elderly. A recent report from the NSPCC** found that children
are reporting more experiences of loneliness than in previous years, and middle
age is a time when people can find themselves isolated as a result of retirement,
children leaving the family home, divorce and bereavement, according to the
Mental Health Foundation.
The statistics reveal that women are more likely than men to feel lonely sometimes
(38%, compared with 30%). A greater number of women (47%) than men (36%) have
felt depressed because they felt alone, and have sought help for feeling lonely
(13% women, compared to 10% men). This is consistent with existing research
that women are generally more likely to seek professional help for health related
Loneliness a common experience yet 'embarrassing to admit to'
Loneliness a common experience: the report reveals only 1 in 5 people never
feel lonely (22%) and 1 in 3 people have a close friend or family member who
they think is very lonely (37%) yet one in three people would be embarrassed
to admit to feeling lonely (30%). This reluctance, according to the Mental Health
Foundation, is because western societies take pride inself-reliance.
Pressure to be 'productive' can lead to loneliness
The charity's report suggests that a shift in attitudes is also contributing
to loneliness. For some, investing time in social activities is seen as less
important than work. Evidence in The Lonely Society? shows that people feel
pressure to be 'productive' and busy, and as a consequence neglect vital relationships
with friends and family. Individuals pursuing aspirations in a market-driven
world may be doing so at their own expense, and neglecting the basic human need
to connect with others, says the Mental Health Foundation.
Loneliness linked to health problems
While loneliness is a natural emotion that has played a part in human evolution,
feeling lonely for a long time can lead to physical and mental health problems.
Polling for the report reveals that four in ten people have felt depressed because
they felt alone (42%). Persistent loneliness is also linked to stress, as well
as poorer functioning of the immune and cardiovascular systems. Evidence shows
that loneliness makes it harder to control the habits and behaviour that can
lead to health problems. Lonely middle-aged adults drink more alcohol, have
unhealthier diets and take less exercise than the socially contented.
Technology: friend or foe?
Polling for the report reveals that one in five people say they spend too much
time communicating with family and friends online when they should see them
in person (18%). The internet has changed the way people communicate but some
experts argue that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter undermine
social skills and the ability to read body language.
Evidence in The Lonely Society? also reveals that technology doesn't provide
the physical contact that benefits well-being. Cognitive function improves when
a relationship is physical, as well as intellectual, because of the chemical
process that takes place during face-to-face communication. This type of interaction
produces the hormone oxytocin, which is thought to underpin the link between
social contact and healthy hearts.
Technology is no substitute for human interaction, but the Mental Health Foundation
says that it can facilitate relationships, both virtual and real, and can be
used to reduce social isolation especially for those who are experiencing chronic
loneliness, whether the root is emotional or circumstantial.
Need to help people experiencing loneliness
The charity is raising awareness of loneliness and of the steps people and
policy-makers can take to combat isolation. It believes that everyone needs
to be aware of the potential health problems linked to loneliness. The Lonely
Society? states that individuals at risk of isolation, such as elderly people,
those out of work and people with disabilities, should be offered support at
an early stage to reduce their vulnerability to chronic loneliness and it's
associated health problems.
Source: The Mental Health Foundation, UK.
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