Sunday 20 January 2019

Loneliness minister needed to curb people's social and health ills

Befriending service combating loneliness which can have devastating health effects
Befriending service combating loneliness which can have devastating health effects

David Looby

There can be no doubt that we now live in a society in which we have never been more connected to each other at the press of a button - and yet we live in a world in which extreme loneliness is affecting so many every day.

January is a terrible month for some people. For others, green snowdrop stems shooting up tall from the ground and mellifluous birdsong early in the morning and in early in the evening, are enough to stir the spirit into a smile at the thought of fresh beginnings and horizons new.

Personally, it's been a topsy turvy month, one of dread going into some evenings, wondering what to do with my time, whereas other evenings I'm happy to be warmed by the fire, reading a good book.

Living on your own, (as I do four nights a week), can focus the mind too much, whereby you must always have a project on the go and something lined up. Having injured my knee recently at indoor soccer, I suddenly found my routine thrown out of orbit. A little change combined with the completion of a project left me struggling to fill my evenings.

The thought occurred to me: 'How must people living on their own all the time cope?' The walls of the house closing in, silence from the phone in the hall. People all around us are battling extreme loneliness and we never know what other people, (some of whom have seemingly great lives), are going through. The realisation of the hold routine has on our lives arrived with an apple-on-head Eureka moment sense of clarity to me. Routine should not be underestimated. Like the voice in your head that tells you to do something (like eating a lot of food at a fixed time during the day), it is to be taken with a pinch of salt. I have many good habits. I eat well, exercise regularly and I enjoy reading, watch the occasional Oscar-nod-worthy film and try to push myself in most everything I do. There are also the bad habits: obsessing about stupid stuff in moments of boredom, eating chocolate like the world's supply is going out of date tomorrow, and being a slave to routine.

People's routine can get thrown out for all kinds of reasons: a bereavement, an illness, a separation, the loss of job.

Men are rubbish at reaching out to people. Women are better, but not all. The recent appointment of Tracey Crouch as Minister for Civil Society in the UK - with a lead brief on loneliness - has sparked calls for a similar role to be created here.

Recent studies have found a direct link between loneliness and various illnesses, from cancer to depression and opiod addiction, prompting calls for a public health policy, to include a Ministry for Loneliness to be funded. In many ways people are more connected than ever through social media and online chatrooms, but just because you have 10,000 Twitter followers or 5,000 Facebook friends, it doesn't mean you aren't gripped with painful feelings of loneliness.

People of all ages are affected by loneliness. It is the elephant in the livingroom in society, so it is time that the Government looked at this problem, and no it won't be solved by a u-turn on drink driving legislation. For me, it is a part of life, all part of a learning curve, the opportunity to grow in light by understanding yourself, befriending yourself and others better - in 'fertile solitude' even, if you are digging for artistic inspiration, while looking forward and not taking yourself to seriously. Loneliness is not a failing, rather sense a self-realisation from which human connections can grow.

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