The January Blues: Loneliness

After the hype of Christmas and New Year’s there comes the annual collective let-down. Absolutely normal after super-charged activity and lots of parties, but what about those who have loneliness as a constant companion?

Before I pontificate, I should declare I enjoy self-imposed loneliness. I am a pianist, and some of my happiest days are when I see no-one at all.  Difficult to explain to a non-musician. There was a recent Christmas where I left the family with the in-laws, and came home to my studio for 8 days of uninterrupted work. I spoke to no one, met up with no-one, let everyone think I was still away, and had blissful time to work at the piano.

But the loneliness experienced by many is not that of choice. It is imposed by society. For those who are alone, yet desperate for contact with others, the effects on physical and mental health can be severe.

Social isolation was one of the galvanising reasons I have spent much time since being elected as a County Councillor getting rural buses back on the agenda.  Having knocked on doors during last May’s campaign, and heard many distressing stories of loneliness and social isolation, I became convinced that good rural buses are not a luxury but a necessity.

Society needs to be connected. All policy needs to recognise the inter-relationship between us all. At a recent meeting on local buses, an advocate made the worthy point that it was seeing other people every day, having those little conversations whilst waiting for the bus or travelling on the journey, which creates community.

The excellent article yesterday in the Guardian highlights the broader issues around social isolation, and I commend it to you. I would posit that the damage caused by social isolation creates untold costs in mental and physical health care. Connecting communities and valuing people in ways which includes everyone builds a stronger, happier and healthier society.

Loneliness is a huge problem, but much of the solution lies in small, local solutions. To give one example, one of my villages came together to buy an old chapel which is now called The Hub. It is a space for coffee mornings, clubs, exercise classes and toddler groups. The Hub has combatted loneliness on many different levels.

We need solutions at a policy level, at a local level, and at a party level. We must remember that local parties bring people of like minds together to work together on local solutions for local problems. Local party socials and action days are events which can involve everyone, can combat loneliness, and bring people together to work towards social change.

So bring on 2018, may it be a year which we build an inclusive society and decrease social isolation.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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5 Comments

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Jan '18 - 1:20pm

    I am glad that you have raised this, Kirsten, and that you are so active in helping and proposing solutions. There may be many who read articles on this site regularly who are lonely, at least part of the time. People may be lonely in malfunctioning relationships, or sometimes in families where they cannot fulfil the expectations of other members, Or they may be lonely because they are alone, perhaps for the first time after many years of companionship, and offers from people around them may not be able to touch their deep feelings (though sometimes counselling will help).

    I have only one suggestion to make, for people who are lonely on their own other than when they have lost a dear companion. There is a natural tendency in that situation to wonder what is wrong with yourself, why you are alone when others so obviously aren’t, to begin to look for faults in yourself and become depressed.

    I recommend you to look directly at yourself in a mirror each morning, and smile. Smile at yourself, and know that you are a good person! Events and circumstances have brought you to this situation, but it is NOT YOUR FAULT. Take heart, and smile at yourself as well as at others. It will help.

  • Kirsten I think you have mistakenly equated loneliness with social isolation. Talking to someone on the bus or while shopping might reduce a person’s social isolation but it does not really affect their loneliness. As Wikipedia states, “loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people”, “A person can be in the middle of a party and feel lonely due to not talking to enough people” and “Research has shown that loneliness is prevalent throughout society, including people in marriages, relationships, families, veterans, and those with successful careers.”

    Wikipedia states, “What makes a person lonely is the fact that they need more social interaction or a certain type of social interaction that is not currently available”. There are no quick fixes. Only the long term provision of the right type of social interaction will counter a person’s loneliness.

  • Christopher Haigh 5th Jan '18 - 6:15pm

    Well done Kirsten for championing rural buses. It is so important for people to get into their market town, enjoy a cup of coffee in the cafe, watch people passing by,meet old friends etc etc. On the subject of pianists-you must be the most self contained of all musicians producing the entire harmonic structure of a piece
    on your own!

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Jan '18 - 9:52pm

    A bit too complex a subject for Wikipedia, I would submit, Michael. A person can be much on their own but not lonely, while another person can have much social interaction but feel lonely because they cannot have the communion of mind, heart and spirit which they truly want. However, initiatives like varied kinds of rural transport, and in towns socialising which the Trussell Trust provides around some of its food banks, are helpful to offer to people to assist them to feel more contented.

  • Simon Banks 5th Mar '18 - 10:07am

    While it’s true that someone can have conversations and be lonely, and Katharine points out that an absence of conversations or company for a period need not mean loneliness, the more meaningful the conversations, he less likely is loneliness. Casual conversations with strangers, not renewed, can be productive, but do not create community. The repeated mixing of people in a pub or a church or a club or seeing one another on the street or a station platform or a Liberal Democrat meeting or a space at the office where people can naturally mix and chat a little (the mini-kitchen maybe) can create community and communities can take power and do things. Online communities can work like that too, but face-to-face contact adds something.

    So a Liberal response is to facilitate and encourage such spaces.

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