Wednesday, 26 May 2010

All the lonely people

A report from a leading mental health charity confirms that loneliness is a common human experience and suggests it may be more common than ever in today’s society. One in ten participants suffered from extreme loneliness and most were “too embarrassed” to admit to this emotion.
I have to admit that I am always a bit cautious about studies that say we are lonelier than ever, because how do we actually know? Do we have reliable data from the past and might it be that previous generations were even more inhibited when it came to owning up to loneliness, or that we have different expectations than we once did?
However, I am not at all sceptical about the reality of loneliness, I can well believe that one in ten of us is “often lonely” and when I read that only one in five lucky souls is “never lonely” it makes me wonder many of them were too embarrassed to say so?

For the record, I will admit that, although I am not exactly a party animal, I do thrive best if I have regular contact with other people. I have been really busy at work this year and so I have neglected to keep up friendships and social activities (I am aiming to rectify this now that we are at the slack end of the academic year.) I also find that the summer holidays can be a time of intense loneliness. I always feel incredibly selfish about this when so many people would love a six week break from work.

Now, for all you bloggers and internet addicts out there - the report also concludes that technology can be positive in alleviating loneliness, but it is no substitute for real relationships. I once read a quote by someone famous (think it was Ghandi, but I can‘t find the quote) along the lines that,
“In the future we will be able to communicate at speed around the world, but we will have less of any worth to say to each other.”
Hoping this post had something to say to you...


  1. Thanks for this Sue, I've been more online on FB, GCN, skype etc. the past few weeks after my GF broke up with me - real need to be with people. Whilst I sometimes feel lonely I also know that I'm not alone, especially not on the web, but sometimes it'd be good to have more friends closer.

  2. Suem

    I have just posted something from a thread I wrote on Da Fundamentals website concerning social research about lesbianism and family breakdown which has makes a few points that echo yours. How is it possible to do some of these comparisons?

    I realised last week, when my partner was away for four days, that I really would be lonely if I were on my own. The fact I also work at home, for the time being, only compounded this. I noted my alcohol consumption went up – indeed I consciously decided NOT to buy wine because of this – as did my phone and internet use. In fact I made one of those little decisions, anyone (with sense) who is half of a couple makes from time to time. I found myself thinking, what would happen if I am the one left on my own – if my partner dies before me or the relationship fails sometime in the future? I decided it would be necessary either to lodge students (preferably female – there’s nothing sadder than an old queen getting romantic ideas out of desperation!!) or perhaps share with a friend.

    I think IT IS likely that we lead more socially isolated lives than we once did. For one, our lives are much more compartmentalised and less focused on the local community. We’ve lived in our present house for six months now, after 14 years in the same flat in London. I have never had a conversation with either of my present neighbours – despite trying. I don’t know anyone in the local shops – whereas in London I was friendly with my neighbours and knew many people in the local community (partly because I was involved in the local church and partly because I was involved in various community projects). I am sure this will happen where we live now, but the mechanisms for that happening are not as prevalent in modern society as they were even a generation ago. Many of us shop at the supermarket rather than the corner or local shops – the supermarket is large and anonymous without the same possibility meeting the same staff etc. People often don’t work in the neighbourhood where they live. When I return to work it will probably be in London and I’ll commute like half the town where I live. Again this limits the chances of local connections. And above all more and more people are choosing to live on their own. Our personal space is growing and distancing us from our neighbours, so it seems likely that loneliness is on the increase. But like you say, it is difficult to gauge whether our experience is different to our antecedents. On the balance of probability, it would seem so.

    Well, better get on – I’ve just received several exam scripts in the post missed by my fellow marker – this has cheered me as I also missed several answer papers in my batch – so it’s not just me who does it and my fellow marker is a senior lecturer, which makes it all the better for me. I notice there is yet again a bias to the question on Secularisation and I bet there is also a bias to confusing it with secularism. Hey hum, the nature of business I suppose!!

    Thanks again for this:


  3. Hi Sig,
    So sorry to hear you two have broken up:(
    I will FB you.

  4. Hi S,
    Yes, I get the thoughts/ anxieties about ending up alone sometimes, especially as my husband is older than I am.

    On balance I think life is lonelier now, but I do think life was particularly hard and lonely for unmarried women in the days when being a wife and mother were the expected goals.

  5. Yes, I think you are quite right,though I also think the 'expectation' of being a wife and mother had the potential for loneliness. Even as a child, in the 60s I can remember my Dad worked til' 6pm week days and Saturday mornings so my Mum was on her own a good deal - tho' she worked, she always went for jobs she could organise around my child care (my brother and sister were in the mid-teens when I was born!) - school cleaner, school meals kitchen assistant etc. The expectation you got married and once you had kids you left the work place was common and I am sure brought its own loneliness.

    I was social worker in the ‘West End’ and Belgravia & Pimlico for some 6 or so years (based in Soho Sq – a fab job!) and many of my charges were older women who had come to London during or soon after the war, got jobs in the Civil Service or worked as MP’s secretaries and chose not to marry because to do so meant having to resign your job!! One fantastic woman, who actually became a bank manager in the early 60s (VERY rare) was a striking example of this. Alas my involvement was because she had alcohol related dementia which I am sure her loneliness added to. When walking through the West End it is difficult to imagine that there are some 60,000 people live in the area; above the well known book shops on Charing Cross Road are housing association flats – people often think it costs mega bucks to live there, but it is only social rent of £80 or so a week. Such flats were crammed with old people many with family living miles away or as noted many people who hadn’t married and had no next of kin. I think sometimes think I would prefer barbiturates and a pint of Bacardi than carry on that existence. But we never know till we get there.