Apparently the media have long-term memory loss. Every time another study comes out showing that loneliness is indeed deadly, they jump on it like it was not something we knew before (see here for a few examples from the most recent study). But I guess you would expect that with a topic like loneliness. After all, who remembers anything about loneliness? Loneliness has such a negative stigma attached to it that it is understandable that the minute the news has cycled through whatever study about loneliness and mortality it is quickly forgotten. Until of course, the next one pops up showing the same thing again.
I guess for someone like me, who works with those who are lonely and researches loneliness, these kind of cursory mentions are now just old, recycled news that at the end of the day mean nothing more than a few news agencies selling a few more papers or getting a few more clicks. It’s reminds me of Oprah’s “Just Say Hello” campaign that came out, got Hollywood stars involved, media hype, guest appearances, and then it fizzled like a bad dream. And I wrote as such (see here), whoever conceived of the Just Say Hello campaign as something other than a gimmick was uninformed about the true nature of loneliness. In fact, I argued, it was rather insulting. I think anyone who experiences chronic loneliness being told your loneliness could be cured by being “friendlier” and “just saying hello” would have been equally insulted. Surely, they had not thought of that before!
At the end of the day, loneliness is just a showpiece that is taken out occasionally, displayed to the public, and then quietly tucked away, and we continue our day-to-day lives pretending like it does not exist and is not a real, fundamental societal problem. Arguably other causes have the same issue of being forgotten like hunger, cancer, delinquency, etc. Each of these have their 15 minutes of fame and are tucked away. But what adds salt to the wound is that very little is done about loneliness. You mention hunger or cancer or homelessness, and people can rally around these things: fundraisers, awareness activities, etc. When is the last time you went to a loneliness fundraiser or did something to raise awareness about loneliness? Probably never, but the media keep reporting loneliness can kill you. So why do we not pay more attention, why do we not do something about it?
I think when people think about “doing” something about loneliness that they think we have dating websites and meetup groups. What more does one need? The fact of the matter is, loneliness is far more insidious than your typical perfunctory solution might suggest. Unlike hunger where you can simply give a hungry person food through a soup kitchen or other avenue, loneliness is often not alleviated just by giving people the opportunity to meet one another. Lonely people frequently have trouble forming and sustaining relationships. I could surround them with 100 people and it would still not solve the problem. Dating websites and meetup groups are not going cut it.
If we want to do something about the loneliness crisis, we have to do more than just showcase it to make some money and dismiss it from our consciousness by thinking there are resources already available. The fact is, very little real resources are available for lonely people. And the fact of the matter is, no one has cared enough to put some real money behind creating a comprehensive solution.
For more on loneliness, visit Web of Loneliness (www.webofloneliness.com)