Loneliness is a disease of the modern society that affects millennials

9 вересня 2018
Vitaliy DeFranko

Loneliness is a disease of the modern society that affects millennials

Loneliness as a form of existence of the young people in modern society became a disturbing trend and reached the level of epidemic. Just a fortnight ago, figures from the Office for National Statisticsfound that almost 10% of 16-to-24-year-olds regularly feel lonely – three times more than the proportion of over-64s who said the same.(Gil, 2018).

            This is a worrying trend given the damaging impact of loneliness on our health. Studies have considered a threat not only to social life but also the mental and physical health of the population.

            By itself, it is not a new phenomenon, however, the age group has changed through the years. Past generations were most socially active near their 20-30’s and decreased from there. But the present age group has been affected even earlier in young adult years, so-called millennials. This tendency has appear due to a couple of factors. First, mobility increased, more isolated jobs have been available, many online communications have caused difficulty in forming and maintaining a social group in real life, so the patterns of social interactions have become more virtual than personal. This theme has not only become a focus of many studies but also widely got reflected in media, cinema, literature.

            A recent popular novel named “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” by Gail Honeyman focuses on a young woman who has issues with her social skills tries to improve it. The author said the novel was based on a study of a young woman who had nobody to talk to the entire weekend and had to go outside to say a word to another human. (Honeyman, 2018). What seemed to be a radical idea in a fiction, actually corroboration with reality. Natalie Gil in her article “At Weekends I Don't See Anybody”: What It's Like To Be Young & Lonely, talks about a London student who had to go to the clothing store to exchange some words with people. (Gil, 2018). The author introduces the article with a statistic: “In a recent study of 2,000 young people, the loneliest were more than twice as likely to have mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, to have self-harmed or attempted suicide, and were also more likely to have been to their GP or a counselor for mental health problems in the past year. The point at which loneliness and mental health issues intersect is a particularly tricky one, and the relationship between them is causal for many people. For some, a mental health condition prevents them from being able to socialize and open up to people, while for others, mental ill-health stems from a lack of close relationships.” (Gil, 2018).

            That being said, if the authors of the fictional work have been telling the stories of people whose “social awkwardness” or some mental health issue as the contributors to their solitude, recent studies are elaborating on the loneliness of the people with developed communication skills that become a reason of depression and other mental health issues. For example, Bethany Smith in her article “The growing threat of loneliness to young adults” is citing Professor Charles Williams, a clinical advisor for Anxiety UK, who suggested that loneliness can be both a cause and effect of mental health issues. ‘If people are feeling depressed and anxious, their social confidence and energy can fall causing them to withdraw and isolate themselves,’ he says.(Smith, 2018).  ‘It can be difficult to enjoy hobbies, and the more someone says “no”, the smaller their world can become”.(Smith, 2018).  

            Ironically, modern means of communication such as social media include  the term “social” albeit lack human, real connection. Some research published in 2017 by psychologist Jean Twenge at San Diego State University suggests that more screen time and social media may have caused a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. (Chatterjee, 2018). The study also found that people who spend less time looking at screens and more time having 

face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal. Several studies in recent years have documented the public health effect of loneliness. It has been linked with a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. It has been shown to influence our genes and our immune systems, and even recovery from breast cancer.

            And there is growing evidence that loneliness can increases risk for premature mortality. A nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna finds that loneliness is widespread in America, with nearly 50 percent of respondents reporting that they feel alone or left out always or sometimes. (Al Jazeera English, 2018).Using one of the best-known tools for measuring loneliness — the UCLA Loneliness Scale — Cigna surveyed 20,000 adults online across the country. The University of California, Los Angeles tool uses a series of statements, and a formula to calculate a loneliness score based on responses. Scores on the UCLA scale range from 20 to 80. People scoring 43 and above were considered lonely in the Cigna survey, with a higher score suggesting a greater level of loneliness and social isolation. The latest survey also found something surprising about loneliness in the younger generation.  Members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had an overall loneliness score of 48.3. Millennials, just a little older, scored 45.3. By comparison, baby boomers scored 42.4. The Greatest Generation, people age 72 and above, had a score of 38.6 on the loneliness scale. (Chatterjee, 2018).

            Social connection or the lack of it is now considered a social determinant of health. It caused experts to look for the new approach in the evaluation of young people health. In a 2014 report, the Institute of Medicine (now the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) suggested that health providers should collect information about patients' "social connections and social isolation" along with information on education, employment, lifestyle (diet, exercise, smoking, etc.) and psychological health.

            Loneliness is not only a health issue, but a social issue, says Katie Wright-Bevans, lecturer in Psychology, Keele University. She focuses on loneliness as a result of life changes and period of transitions and offers a social solution to this problem as creating a new form of communication between older and younger generations.(Wright-Bevans, 2018)

            As a conclusion, loneliness is recognized as a problem that requires a series of actions, on the level of society as a whole, and the individual level which includes psychological support. 

Psychological support should play a tremendous role in searching of a solution to this problem.

As research and statistics show the demand in various types of counseling increased significantly, starting from prevention hot-lines up to professional counseling. That should contribute to adaption and readjustment of affected person in the society.

References

Natalie Gil (2018). "At Weekends I Don't See Anybody": What It's Like To Be Young & Lonely. Refinery29. Retrieved from: https://www.refinery29.uk/2018/05/198255/loneliness-young-people-millennials

Gail Honeyman. (2018).Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.

Bethany Smith (2018). The growing threat of loneliness to young adults. Metro. Retrieved from https://metro.co.uk/2018/05/03/it-felt-like-everyone-else-was-at-a-party-i-wasnt-invited-to-the-growing-threat-of-loneliness-to-young-adults-7511798/

Rhitu Chatterjee (2018). Americans Are A Lonely Lot, And Young People Bear The Heaviest Burden. NPR Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden

Katie Wright-Bevans (2018). Loneliness is not just an issue in old age – young people suffer too. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/loneliness-is-not-just-an-issue-in-old-age-young-people-suffer-too-91931

Al Jazeera English. 2018 May 5. Loneliness increasing in the US and young people suffer the most.  Retrieved fromhttps://youtu.be/15NXrnyT2HM

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