The Modern-Day Epidemic: Loneliness

May 08, 2018

The Modern-Day Epidemic: Loneliness

Bouts of loneliness are inevitable, and I often feel lonely. In the midst of this mindset, I feel like the only person who has ever felt alone. Yet, as solitary as this struggle with loneliness can feel, we all feel it. NPR ran a story on this, “Americans are a Lonely Lot, and Young People Bear the Heaviest Burden.” While listening to this segment stuck in late night traffic, I realized I rarely feel lonelier than sitting in the car by myself reflecting on my loneliness. To exaggerate this feeling, there are some pretty outstanding numbers from a UCLA study on loneliness in this article. The first being:

  • 54% of 20,000 surveyed, “always or sometimes felt that no one know them well.”

This means that 10,800 people surveyed feel misunderstood. By using the phrase “no one,” we can assume that people feel misunderstood by even those close to them. What’s interesting, though, is we can feel misunderstood whether we actually are or not. I was having a conversation about pedagogy with a friend who practices a seemingly opposing style—I lean toward structure, she leans away. After I was done explaining my view, she said accusingly, “You need to let go. You’re obviously frustrated with this, and you’re exercising too much control.” I was surprised by this since I wasn’t frustrated at all. I was also surprised because I think there’s a big difference between “structure” and “control”—setting expectations help us find common ground in relationships, especially in classrooms.

Unlike my family, who always misunderstand me. I hadn’t been this misunderstood from someone outside my family in a while. My family frequently thinks I’m mad when I’m not; they think I’m going to get mad when I won’t. In my family, most paths lead to anger even though I rarely am. But, I don’t feel misunderstood like this by my peers often. Usually, though, I don’t need a moment of legitimate misunderstanding, like the conversation with my friend above, to feel misunderstood. I’m definitely someone who falls in this percentage closer to “always” than “sometimes.”

The next statistic is one I don’t necessarily identify with:

  • 56% of those 20,000 either “always or sometimes” felt those around them were “’not necessarily with them.’”

This statistic means that 11,600 people in this group believe the people they’re with aren’t present, which may point to phone usage and another article by Business Insider, “This is Why Our Phones are Making Us Miserable: Happiness Isn’t the Same Thing as Pleasure, and Our Brains Know It.” Our phones make us feel good momentarily without any long-lasting effects, and our brains do not confuse short-term pleasure for long-term happiness, which keeps us in a state of dissatisfaction. With the constancy of social media, it’s hard to pull away from it—even if we want to—because these “pleasure and reward stressors” end up mirroring addiction. So, unfortunately, the ways to feel distant from someone sitting right next to us are innumerable.

The last statistic crushed me:

  • Every 2 in 5 studied experienced the following emotions either “sometimes or always”:
    • “’they lack companionship’”
    • “their ‘relationships aren’t meaningful’”
    • “they ‘are isolated from others’”

Roughly 8,000 people from the study experienced all or a combination of these three bullet points “sometimes or always.” As a “sometimes or always” feeler of these emotions, I’m heartbroken so many others feel these, too. Knowing that young people are impacted with this more than other age groups means this needs our utmost attention. What is our society to do when these numbers grow? At this point, there is a lot of talk, but not a lot of substantial means, to reduce these numbers. So, with the growing adoption of technology in our lives, we can assume these numbers will increase as more and more generations grow up immersed in technology. Then, how can we save our lonely young people from growing up into lonely adults?

We need to invest in mental health by making mindfulness and other mental health strategies a mandatory objective in both health and fitness classes in schools. If we prepared our children to handle the onslaught of emotions we experience growing up instead of leaving them to wade through their emotions alone, many would be less at-risk of feeling like they're drowning. When I was younger, I never remember anyone ever talking about sadness or hurt or anger. I saw these emotions raging through my family, but no one ever addressed them. We just had to deal with it. Even after my dad died, my mom and brother and I would hide our sadness from one another because we didn’t know how to handle it. Inevitably, there was no way we could support one another in any real way, which exacerbated my loneliness, and, probably, theirs too.

Ways to combat loneliness feels like an endless search, so I am constantly looking for healthy and healthier coping mechanisms. For this, I’m thankful for the mental health techniques I’ve learned throughout the years, like hiking and reshaping negative thoughts into positive ones. I’m also thankful for my dog. She keeps me company and forces me to go outside multiple times a day. And, most importantly, she always reminds me someone loves me and needs me, which is often exactly what I need.