I’ve read a lot about loneliness and the impact it has on people, about the toxicity of individualism and a success driven society, especially where that success is defined by the accumulation of wealth, stuff, followers or influence. This year we have seen much of this life disrupted as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but with the messages being ‘stay at home, save lives’ loneliness has not gone away, in fact it seems to be more recognised than it has been before. In the early part of 2020 the lockdown saw single people living on their own unable to see friends or family members for a significant length of time. In the second lockdown announced at the weekend there does seem to have been some recognition that to do this again would be very harmful to people’s wellbeing and we will be allowed to go outside with one other person as long as it’s socially distanced.
Loneliness has been a problem for many a decade, this article does a good job at showing what is at the root of the problem: patriarchal thinking and how this is so embedded in our culture we don’t really even notice it anymore. Look back at your own childhood and consider how your friendships have changed – when we are little making friends seems easy and the most natural thing. Even if that’s not the case, for those who are neural a-typical perhaps, there’s nearly always at least one close friendship that we cling to in our childhood. As we become teenagers this changes as we are teased or bullied about having friends that do not fit whatever ‘norm’ the perpetrators are intent on enforcing. And the truth about those who tease and bully is that they are only expressing sentiment they have heard from others, whether that’s at home or at school or in another context that has importance to them. Our individualistic, materialistic, homogeneous, patriarchal culture is harming us all but the good news is, we can do something about it!
Challenge the status quo
Those of us who are supporting young people, either as a youth worker or a parent, can and should be having conversations that challenge the status quo: about clothing, about friendships and other relationships, about people who tease and bully, about the way we all treat/talk about ‘the other’ i.e. anyone who is different to us. Any opportunity we have to reinforce the message that every human being is worthy of love and attention should be taken!
We can also challenge this in other contexts, in our own dealings with other people, in our online conversations, in our close friendships. I loved the examples I read over the weekend about men forming their own groups that are safe places to hold deep conversations and support each other, this is critical if we are to reverse that statistic about male death by suicide: In the UK, men are three times as likely to take their own lives than women and in the UK, the highest suicide rate was for men aged 45-49 (from the Samaritans website). Loneliness in itself is not a mental illness but it is definitely an exacerbating factor for many who suffer from mental illness. Loneliness goes against what it is to be human: the need for connection with other humans; not just physically being in the same space as others, although the pandemic has really shown up how much we might have taken that for granted, but to be known by another. It’s why members of faith groups are regularly reported as being ‘happier’ because not only are they generally meeting with other likeminded humans regularly but they also believe that there is one (or more in some cases) who knows them in a way that no other human really can.
End the loneliness epidemic
It is time to reach out to our fellow human beings and offer friendship, camaraderie and support, time to make peace with our neighbours and ourselves in order to usher in a new way of life. One where we make the effort that’s required to be vulnerable, to be neighbourly, to become friends.
It is time to reach out to our fellow human beings and offer friendship, camaraderie and support, time to make peace with our neighbours and ourselves in order to usher in a new way of life. One where we make the effort that’s required to be vulnerable, to be neighbourly, to become friends. This is possible, even during Covid-19. I took part in an event for this week’s Youth Work Week with the Institute for Youth Work, it was ‘Random Cuppa with a Colleague’ and I got to chat for half an hour with Charlotte from Youth First, based in Lewisham (pictured!). It can feel like Zoom is a poor substitute for meeting in person, but on this occasion it felt like the ability to video call enabled the connection. Don’t underestimate the power of a call, whether it’s a video call to share news or watch a TV programme together, or even just an old-fashioned phone call to check in with others. Youth work can be a lonely job but let’s use this time when there is less face to face work happening to check in on others we know doing the same job, who share the same passion and make the world a happier place for someone else as well as ourselves.