Loneliness–a silent killer – Daily Pioneer

Loneliness can affect anybody. Experts define it as a “distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships.” Covid-19-induced restrictions have just added to the woes. The experts tell ARCHANA JYOTI that everyone who may be feeling lonely, or isolated should reach out to someone, and if they know someone who they feel might be lonely, or isolated to get in touch.
SSeventy years old Kamlesh Patel (name changed) who retired as a senior bureaucrat, is a lonely man now. With his wife passing away two years ago, both the children settled abroad, and no close friends and relatives around, he is leading a secluded life in his 3-BHK apartment in a posh locality in the national capital. When in job, Patel failed to balance his personal/professional and social life. So, he is now rejected by those who really mattered in his life then. Now, he cannot blame anyone but himself for this situation that led him to loneliness.
*Thirty-five years old Sanjay Rastogi is surrounded by so many people, but he is still leading a lonely life. It’s all because of an inferiority complex, he developed when he failed to convert his dream of becoming an IAS into reality. A brilliant student, Rastogi couldn’t accept any job lower than an IAS officer. Now, he avoids social contact and is in a kind of confinement because of low self-esteem, sadness, and fear of being repulsed/rebuffed.
These two cases are just the tip of the iceberg. As per the findings of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) released in 2017,  over12 per-cent of Indian youth reported feeling depressed often, and 8 per cent reported feeling lonely quite frequently.
A study “What causes loneliness among household heads: a study based in a primary setting in Mumbai, India” found that around 7 per cent of respondents often felt lonely, while 21 per cent sometimes experienced loneliness in the last seven days preceding the survey date.
“Household heads with two or more chronic diseases had higher odds of loneliness than household heads without any chronic disease. The odds of loneliness were almost 3 times higher among females as compared to males. Household heads living alone (single) had higher odds  to suffer from loneliness than those living in a joint family,” it said.
The study conducted by  Vidya Yadav, Assistant Professor P.G. Department of Geography, College of Commerce, Arts & Science, Patna, Patliputra University, Patna,  Shekhar Chauhan and  Ratna Patel, Department of Public Health and Mortality Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai  has been published in the  BMJ Public Health.
They researchers  noted that lifestyle of urban dwellers adversely affects their health not only physically but mentally too. In this context, loneliness rapidly emerged as a public health concern in the urban part.
“Furthermore, many identified the risk factors of loneliness that could be avoided if timely preventive measures could be taken along with adequate care. Improvement in the aesthetic design of future slum rehabilitation projects can promote a socially cohesive environment,” they found.
Situation is not encouraging elsewhere. A study in 2020 by Cigna found that 61 per cent of Americans reported being lonely in 2019, up from 54 per cent in 2018. Some figures suggest loneliness affects the well-being of as many as 3 in 10 people. Similarly, yet another study same year but conducted by the University of Edinburgh suggests that the causes of loneliness differ depending on the age of the individual.
For example, older adults experience loneliness more frequently as a result of living alone, while middle-aged individuals aren’t as likely to report living alone as a cause of their loneliness.
JR Gupta, President of Senior Citizens Council of Delhi avers saying that “Older individuals are more likely to have lost friends and family members, and they are more likely to experience medical or physical limitations that restrict their opportunities for activities and socializing.”
Recently released Longitudinal Ageing Study of India too says that approximately 23% of the elderly stay alone, without children. While loneliness can have an impact across ages and be relevant irrespective of whether you stay alone or in a full house, it is most common among those above 60 and affects almost everyone at some point in time.
Gupta says that on their part they have been organising various tours and get together events so that their elder members do not feel that they are alone in their travail. “Sharing reduces the pain of loneliness,” he asserts.
Dr. RK Dhamija, Director Delhi-based Institute of Behaviour Human Allied Sciences (IBHAS) emphasizes that loneliness is both a cause and consequence of mental health disorders. Sometimes though, “loneliness may result in lifestyle modifications such as joining fitness classes, seeking outdoor adventure.”
Although loneliness and being alone are commonly confused, being alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lonely. “Loneliness is a feeling while being alone is a situation or state of being, which is not inherently negative,” says Nina Vasan, psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief medical officer at Real, an online mental wellness membership site.
“You can feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by other people—such as a partner, family, co-workers or friends,” Dr. Vasan says.
Dr Dhamija agrees as he cautioned that solitude and loneliness should not be explained in similar ways. Solitude is enjoyed by people and it leads to creativity, and self-realization, and is totally an approach to developing one own individual space.
Loneliness is basically of three types – Emotional, Social, and Situational. Situational loneliness is when we lose someone close to our heart (bereavement), get bullied, physically/ mentally abused, have chronic disease, and post-retirement fear of loss of Income, elaborates Dr Smita Deshpande, a  professor of psychiatry at St. John’s Research Institute, St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore.
Secondly, our egoistic attitude, underestimating/avoiding people for not being of our standard creates hatred for us, and people gradually start leaving us. And our high ambition to see our children get good jobs and earn a lot of money takes them away from us. They run after money leaving us behind and getting detached from us due to their busy/hectic work schedule, she points out.
Rajeev Kumar, Official on Special Duty (OSD) in Delhi Government’s Education Department who has gone through isolation stage as a Covid patient feels that people do not have time to talk to each other in this net-savvy world. New concept that “it’s no use of telling or advising anybody’ is fast catching up. This also lead to loneliness even you when you have friends. Sometimes even when living in the same house they talk through Whatsapp or phone calls from their rooms. This is leading to decline in verbal communication, he says matter-of-factly.
Dr Dhamija concludes with the warning that, “Chronic feelings of loneliness can have huge adverse impact on anybody’s quality of life. If left untreated, these feelings can lead to more serious issues such as depression or other mental health conditions.
“These can be Cognitive decline/Depression/Heart disease/High blood pressure (hypertension)/Obesity/ Weakened immune system /Alzheimer’s disease. Hence, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional, if you are feeling lonely.”
Tips to Manage that Feeling
Take control of your time: When you feel lonely. It means time for yourself to make a list of your goals and try to accomplish them. • Self-care: It tends to improve mood, quality of life, and physical and mental health • Manage your leisure time with your skills: You allow doing your skills like painting, cooking, dancing and some other activities. • Join a social group: Join dance class, club, swimming, and some other social groups help to reduce your loneliness and it also helps to increase your physical and mental energy. • Give priority to close relationships: Relationship matters in loneliness. Keep in touch with your loved one whether you touch it online or offline. • Self-love: Be your own best friend and gives value to your own work. It helps to improve your self-esteem which supports physical and psychological growth. • Enjoy your own company: Connect with your own pleasant memories. • Active lifestyle: You can beat your loneliness with your active lifestyle. Make activity schedule include your sleep 6-7hour, healthy foods, exercise, fun, and traveling. • Enjoy the little moment: Celebrate little moments like birthdays, organize a small party for fun, reading books that help to improve mental and physical health. • Count blessings: Count your achievements and do appreciate them. It develops a positive approach toward your life.
Nations Gear up to Tackle Loneliness
Various Governments across the world are gradually waking up to this silent killer. If the UK appointed a designated loneliness minister in 2018 to reach out to its older people, Japan last year took similar step after it felt that loneliness is afflicting  across different age groups, including children, young people, women and older people. Rising cases of suicide was immediate trigger.
In India, Delhi Government has started ‘Happiness Classes’ while a few years ago, Madhya Pradesh set up a ‘Happiness Department’, with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan saying it will work to ensure “happiness in the lives of the common people” along the lines of the neighboring country Bhutan.
Since 2008, Bhutan has established the Ministry of Happiness to measure the happiness of its citizens. In the population census form, there is a column to fill in the information about citizens’ level of life satisfaction. This information is acquired using   a holistic approach to measuring citizens’ happiness and well-being that also provides guidelines to design evidence-based policies.
Happiness classes have brought a pathbreaking change in the student’s mindset, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia says explaining that the “curriculum has changed students’ learning experience for the better and how to tackle stress. Students’ focus on studies (is) increasing. Children are staying stress-free.”
 

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