Derrick, loneliness has been in the spotlight of media and societies around the world since a couple of years, some call it a “pandemic”; the UK has even named a ministry of loneliness. From what you found in your study, how would you define loneliness and what happened in our world, that it seems to be on the rise?
Before getting into the definition of loneliness we must first talk about why this issue is important and especially right now in this moment. Research has shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, have better cognitive function, have less depression, and live longer. Similarly, human touch and physical displays of caring have also shown to be important for social connection and bonding, as well as for psychological well-being. However, a lack of deeper relationships with connections may manifest in mental health issues like anxiety, depression, adjustment disorder, chronic stress, insomnia, and even cognitive decline later in life.
In our research we tested various definitions of loneliness and discovered that defining loneliness in terms of relationships is key. We define loneliness as lacking trusted and quality relationships. Relationships that are valued, trusted and desired from connections is important for us as human beings and thus when such relationships are absent, we are lonely. The study found that one in five people in the global sample feel lonely on a regular basis.
Qualitative interviews revealed that many think of “feeling alone” as a lack of emotional support, having no one to talk to, or the perception that no one understands them. In other words, feeling alone is less about being alone physically and more about a lack of an emotional support system or quality and valued relationships.
While loneliness can affect anyone at any time, there’s now another lens through which the issue should be examined: the global COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing and isolation measures. People around the world are taking part in social distancing, isolating at home, wearing masks, and refraining from embracing or touching others. The pandemic also has highlighted how the social determinants of health and systemic factors have placed individuals, families, and communities at highest risk.