Loneliness is an emotion common to any human though each individual may have a different experience. It is one of the least favorite things for anyone in life; that agony of being all alone without anyone caring for you. It is treated as one of the mental health symptoms whose etiology has not yet been confirmed. However, for the elderly, especially those aged above 60 years, it is considered a disease nowadays. In recent studies, it has been concluded that prolonged loneliness not only causes sickness but also causes death and the risk of death increases by approximately 26%. Previously, it used to be overlooked but it has recently become one of the most alarming public health issues alongside substance abuse and obesity. It is a predisposing factor for number physical diseases such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Loneliness increases the risk of cancer since people with tumor if lonely can make the tumor metastasize more rapidly.
We now understand that loneliness can lead to death, but ever wondered how? From the analysis of the psychobiologists’, the feeling of loneliness sends signals of hormones that are misleading, transforms the genetic components that are responsible for the behavior and forces a series of systems to behave abnormally. People who are lonely mostly feel rejected and that is the worst and the most damaging part for that matter. This was long discovered by psychologists who studied the experience of gay men when there was the first outbreak of AIDS during the very first decade. Their immune systems were knocked out by the condition and it became a problem that they could only share with themselves since the government had ignored the crisis. Later, people started panicking and called upon the government to quarantine gay men. Why are we giving this occurrence? It is because there is a relationship between social experiences and one’s health. Those men would die of AIDS three times faster than other men would. This only shows the severity of loneliness, gay men are socially isolated and lacked emotional support from others an issue which leads them to stress that allows the virus to replicate faster than it would normally do.
Sometimes people claim that loneliness is inborn. To some extent, it is true since it is a condition that flows through a family line and so can be inherited. A study that was carried out that included more than 8,000 identical Dutch twins as the subjects regardless of their ages, sex, and gender, revealed that 50 percent of times if one twin reports a feeling of loneliness and lack of love, the second twin would also report the same. This is a clear revelation that loneliness can be inherited, though not 100 percent likely physical trait or eye color, it can account for almost half the percentile of what makes people have that feeling. The remaining half is probably is as a result of the stresses of the world.
According to social scientists, factors such as housing trends and technology are known to increase the risk of suffering from loneliness. With the ever-evolving technology and changes in lifestyle, people are living alone and social media on the other side has led to people keeping distance from each other. This way, the most substantive relationship of flesh and blood is avoided which would have otherwise helped many in enhancing their health through giving people stress management skills which would, in turn, improve immunity thus enhancing people’s lives.
Loneliness is a major concern for public health should be considered a disease itself, not a social concept or just a mere symptom, because of its pathological nature; it surely requires a therapeutic intervention. The consequences of loneliness are far much than one might think. It makes one sick, causes loss and injury, causes pain and grief, exhaustion and fatigue and on top of that, prevents quick recovery. All the above-mentioned problems interfere with a person’s normal day to day functioning. Maintaining a diverse set of social connections and building meaningful close relationships is one of the factors to consider when finding ways of coping with loneliness. Though it might be difficult to implement, the government should devise policies that govern the way neighborhoods are designed, a way that could make it easier for the community health workers to identify those at risk of suffering from loneliness.
Mother Teresa once said that: “the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love…” What then are we doing to do to help those who feel lonely? Can we show everyone love? Or maybe, give everyone a hug? We should find ways to implement interventions that will reduce the incidence of loneliness and the condition too should be taken seriously and further be classified as one of the psychiatric conditions.
Author : Walter