Loneliness—Today’s Silent Scourge
“I’M CUT OFF, sad, just putting in time. I’m alone. I eat alone, walk alone, sleep alone and talk to myself. There isn’t anyone around to hear me. Nobody except myself.”
“Love is not being lonely anymore. Boredom hurts.”
These suicide notes were the final pleas of two persons overwhelmed by “an invisible, silent disease,” now reaching epidemic proportions—LONELINESS.
More and more people are feeling the gnawing pain from the sharp realization of not belonging, and of not being wanted—no, not even by their own relatives.
“There is no one I know that really understands me!” bemoan many. These may be surrounded by people, but they dwell in a silent world, without a soul with whom they can share intimate concerns and who is interested, sympathetic and accepting.
It Is at the Top of the List
A poll conducted in 1978, involving over 52,000 participants, asked what emotions brought them the greatest discomfort. What was at the top of the list? Over 40 percent said they “often feel lonely.” This is quite alarming when we consider that very few like to admit to loneliness.
Really, though, almost everyone has experienced feelings of loneliness. For many, such feelings soon pass. But for millions of others loneliness becomes chronic and life grows miserable.
Loneliness is no respecter of persons. Teen-agers, young singles, the middle-aged and senior citizens have all known its sting. Wealth and position are no protection against it.
Marriage is not automatically a shelter from loneliness. Several researchers say: “Among the loneliest people in the world” are couples trapped in a marriage in which there is no real communication.
Of loneliness, one expert said: “There is no human condition so acute—or so universal.”
The Tragic Effects on a Person’s Life
At its worst, loneliness can cause suicide. Several studies have linked the dramatic increase of suicides, especially among teen-agers, to the spread of loneliness. One study reported: “If one theme runs through the accounts of suicides, it is isolation from family, friends, from anyone who could serve as an anchor to reality or simply listen well.” (Italics ours.)
To block out loneliness, its victims have turned to alcoholism, compulsive overeating, drug abuse and promiscuous sex. Often loneliness is the impetus behind singles bars, dance clubs, encounter groups, computer dating and columns in newspapers advertising for mates.
A host of medical ills have been attributed to loneliness—gastric disturbances, asthmatic attacks, skin eruptions and others. In the book The Broken Heart—The Medical Consequences of Loneliness, author James J. Lynch provides documentation showing that single or divorced individuals, persons who often live alone, have shorter lives and suffer a greater number of heart ailments. His blunt conclusion is, “Human companionship is quite literally an important form of life insurance.”
Research has even indicated that loneliness may trigger violence.
Of course, this is not to say that all persons who suffer from certain illnesses are lonely, nor are all single and divorced persons prone to alcoholism, promiscuity, violence or the like. Yet, what has been presented shows the traumatic effect loneliness may have on one’s life.
Why So Much Loneliness Now?
In the past few decades family life has markedly deteriorated. Divorce rates in virtually all countries have skyrocketed. There has been a dramatic increase in single-parent families. More and more people find themselves living alone. Add the number of widowed persons and singles, and the total is staggering.
Attitudes and developments in today’s society have also created an atmosphere that fosters loneliness. Emphasis has been placed on impersonal technology, getting the maximum production with a minimum of effort. The individual is often viewed as a mere production tool. Many persons apply similar principles to their personal lives. They do not want to make the emotional investment needed to develop satisfying relationships with others, so they make merely superficial acquaintances. Couple this with the mobility of today’s space age and you can see why it is not difficult for persons to get lonely.
Television also has discouraged genuine communication with family and friends. The flocking of multitudes from the farms to the “big city” is another recent development. What has happened in Japan is typical of many lands. Reportedly, before World War II families were in close association. Relatives and neighbors were always on hand when one had a problem. But, according to Japanese sociology professor Susumu Iivuka, “now, when 60 percent of Japan’s 112 million people live in only 2 percent of the land area, more and more families are finding themselves isolated in concrete jungles and not have adapted to the new pattern.”
Living in large cities, a person can become “people weary” and at the end of the day may want to escape from people, perhaps even his own family. He may ignore the stranger who needs his help. He withdraws into a protective shell. He begins a process that can cause him to become more and more isolated. Gradually his haven of isolation can become a prison of loneliness.
The reasons for loneliness are many and complex. But the vital questions are, How can I cope with it? What can I do to break its spell?
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SUICIDE NOTES OF PERSONS OVERWHELMED BY LONELINESS
Love is not being lonely anymore.
I’m cut off, sad, just putting in time. I’m alone. I eat alone, walk alone, sleep alone and talk to myself. There isn’t anyone around to hear me. Nobody except myself.