Article author- Haleema Bawany
In 2018, graphic designer Marissa Korda started the Loneliness Project, aiming to shed light on real-life experiences with loneliness. It was pretty simple: People would send in their stories, and Marissa would post them to her uniquely designed webpage. The countless stories ranged from person to person, each experience unique and diverse. From spending hours alone wandering an IKEA to dreading another lonely Christmas every year, the project brought to surface the terrifying truth that we humans are suffering from an entirely new epidemic: Loneliness. Georgia Frances King, a writer for Quartz, states that “We are more connected than ever before, yet we somehow feel more isolated.” How contradictory is it, that in this day and age, with all the technology available at our fingertips, loneliness rates are higher than ever before? This is an issue that is barely spoken about, so, let’s talk about it. Let’s explore the problem of chronic loneliness so evident in our current society, then examine the effects of social isolation, before finally, highlighting some solutions to aid in the battle against this unspoken epidemic.
Now, we’ve all heard of chronic heart disease, chronic cancer, and even chronic bronchitis, but chronic loneliness? Not so much. Though it sounds like a disease, chronic loneliness is just a term used to describe feelings of social isolation experienced over a long period of time. Harvard’s school of education reports that almost 40% of Americans feel serious loneliness. That’s over 118 million people in our country, alone. Imagine how many others all around the world suffer from the same situation. And the cause? Well, it’s not what most would expect. The biggest threat to our world is… independence. Now you’re probably wondering, independence? But, isn’t that a good thing? Well, not exactly. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the world’s leading researchers on social connection, states that we as humans “value our independence so highly. Needing others is viewed as a weakness rather than interdependence.” We’ve grown up in a world where simply asking for help is perceived as weak. So, we push away our natural instinct of reliance and replace it with ego. This pride we hold becomes our armor, something we use to protect ourselves from appearing vulnerable in others eyes. Our fear of judgment leads us to pretend we’re someone that we’re really not. And in this day and age, it’s so easy to create an online presence, showcasing all the good parts about us, and hiding our flaws. We can be whoever we want by hiding behind a screen. It’s clear to see that the internet doesn’t help prevent us from feeling lonely, it only increases the problem, creating people who aren’t confident about their true selves. These causes, all started by our need for independence, is the ultimate push our society needs to fall into the dark grip of chronic loneliness.
Smoking kills. It’s a well-known fact. But, what if I told you that social isolation has the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes… a day. The DailyMail reports that “Loneliness is as bad for your health as alcoholism, smoking and overeating”. Who would’ve thought that a feeling we experience in our minds can be just as lethal as bad habits that hurt us physically. And that’s not all. Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and writer for Inc.com states that “Stress will affect you more if you’re lonely. Everyday obstacles take a bigger emotional toll on individuals who lack social and emotional support.” As humans, having a social connection with others is a fundamental need. When we are deprived of this need, our mental and physical state becomes imbalanced. Simple things can push us over the edge, and without someone there to catch you when you fall, things can get deadly, in a self-destructive way. The University of Montreal conducted a study where they found that the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts increased with the degree of loneliness a person felt. This just goes to show how dire the situation really is. People’s lives are at risk, and not by some outside force, but by their own selves. They suffer in silence, unable to cope with the brutal effects of their agonizing isolation. There’s no one they can turn to, no one they can lean on. So, they search for a way out. In their desperation, ending their lives feels like the only escape. It’s no surprise that solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment. Being isolated is as painful as torture.
What the world needs now are practical and effective solutions. Fortunately, a great solution exists right here in this city. The Houston Sports and Social Club! Founded in 2011, its goal is to improve the lives of our community by providing services focused on enhancing social, physical, and mental health. Taking the time to actually interact with people face-to-face through activities that don’t require your eyes to be glued to a screen will prove to be very rewarding and ultimately, help you take a step towards overcoming social isolation. And it’s not just in Houston, social clubs similar to this one exist all across the nation. Now of course, going out and talking to strangers isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t fear! Pen pals are here! Sometimes, to find solutions for the present, we must look to the past. Pen pals have been around for close to a century now, and countless accounts from both old and young individuals show that it has helped them with their loneliness. Fran Braga Meininger, an elderly writer for the sixtyandme blog, says that she was eager “for a sense of purpose, connection and honest communication. Becoming a modern day pen pal has offered [her] all of that.” Jocelyn Reading, a younger blogger acknowledges that “having pen pals help to alleviate [her] sense of loneliness.” As you can see, there are many resources available to help combat loneliness, the only problem is unawareness. Whether it’s you who needs these solutions, or someone else you know, or even just the general population, getting these solutions out there can change lives. By spreading the word, YOU can make all the difference.
Marissa Korda took the initiative to bring hidden struggles to light. She opened people’s eyes to an issue barely anyone knew about. Like her, we together can start a project for humanity. A project in which all we have to do is listen. Listen to those who struggle to be heard. We’ve ventured into the depths of chronic loneliness, discovered why it’s a problem, and finally, determined how to fight it. Loneliness is a deep, deep ocean, filled with people struggling for air. But you can be their lifeboat, you can save them. By spreading awareness about this issue barely anyone speaks about, you can make their voices heard and save humanity from being forever, alone.
Article author: Haleema Bawany
Haleema Bawany is a junior at Jordan High School with a passion for all things psychology! It is her dream to become a psychologist in the future so she can help people with mental health issues live life to their full potential!