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An Epidemic of Loneliness

Updated on September 23, 2019
James A Watkins profile image

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with three non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

This is for All the Lonely People

Ahhh, look at all the lonely people. Where do they all come from? Well, the loneliest people in the world today live in America, Australia, Sweden, Britain, Canada, and Japan. Could it be because of dangerously low birth rates? Might fractured families be to blame?

Americans have half as many children today compared to when I was born. And we are nine times more likely to report being lonely.

One-third of Americans over age 60 experience frequent, intense loneliness. It is worse for those in their 40s, with 43% feeling lonely. Among Millennials, 30% always or often feel isolated, and a disturbing 22% say they have no friends. Zero. But the most desolate of all are those in 'Generation Z,' under 24 years old.

Loneliness and social isolation could increase an individual's risk of premature death by 50 percent, which is higher than the risk from smoking or obesity.

All By Myself, I Don't Want To Be

The New York Times reports, "4,000 'lonely deaths' a week in Japan. Each year, some of Japan's elderly died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell. The extreme isolation of elderly Japanese is so common that an entire industry has emerged around it, specializing in cleaning out apartments where decomposing remains are found."

“Loneliness is becoming a common phenomenon in France,” Le Figaro reports. The article names the prime driver of this loneliness to be “family rupture,” especially divorce.

One-half of Swedes now live in households of one. As one story put it, "A man is alone in his flat. He has been lying there dead for three weeks—people only noticing his demise when an awful smell appeared in the communal hallways. The man has no close relatives or friends. He lived lonely and alone for years, sitting solitary in front of his TV or computer. He has a daughter, but she proves impossible to locate. He had quite a lot of money tucked away in the bank. He had no one to share with."

A Der Spiegel article entitled, 'Alone by the Millions: Isolation Crisis Threatens German Seniors,’ declares, "Over 20 percent of Germans over the age of 70 are in regular contact with only one person—or nobody. Many older people have no one who still addresses them by their first name or asks them how they are doing. Without doubt, what unites these tragic portraits is the sexual revolution, driving up divorce rates, driving down marriage rates, and emptying cradles. Hardly anyone visits the elderly women anymore suffering from extreme loneliness, who didn’t want any children when they were young.”

Lonely People are not Happy

In Britain, a story in the Sun reveals that a new, nationwide survey shows a stunning 89% of those aged 16 to 29 say their lives lack meaning and purpose. Nihilism is running rampant among them.

The education system has taught that generation that life means nothing more than whatever any individual says it does, which ultimately comes to mean nothing. A culture that abandons any objective truth, as John Stonestreet of BreakPoint tells us, "and instead tells its young people that truth, purpose, meaning, and morality are purely subjective, will only, in the end, rob them of any truth, purpose, meaning, or morality."

Christianity supplied a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, and truth for centuries in Western Civilization. However, in Britain, a record low 38% are Christians, and for those under 24-years-old, it drops to a shocking 1%. The secularizers have done a bang-up job.

Three-quarters of Brits over 60 feel lonely, and half say that have felt that way for many years. Nine million of them “always or often feel lonely.” Two hundred thousand older people in the UK say they have not had a single conversation with a friend or relative in more than one month. The government has created a Minister for Loneliness and is funding initiatives and programs to help lonely people.

As my article The Pursuit of Happiness shows, social science finds that four things produce lasting happiness: Faith, Family, Community, and Vocation. All four have been undermined in the West by 'Progressivism.'

It Hurts

Of Americans adults, nearly half say they “sometimes or always” feel “alone,” or “left out.” About one in four “rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them,” and roughly two in five “sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful,” and that they are “isolated from others.”

Only 53% “have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.”

That study was done by Cigna Insurance, which sees this as important information because those social interactions, or lack thereof, seem to have enormous consequences on individual health. "We view a person's physical, mental and social health as being entirely connected," said Cigna.

Sad on Campus

College counselors say that in decades past the questions most often asked revolved around how a person should live. Lately, the question has become why should I live?

Hopelessness, meaninglessness, stress, anxiety, alienation, and depression run amok among students. Ten percent of them have been suicidal. One-third has no religious affiliation—and one-third has mental health problems. Could there be a connection there?

Melissa Mackenzie asks in the American Spectator, "How can a country with so much prosperity produce humans that value their blessings so little? We've brought up a generation of people who have everything and feel empty at the same time."

Millennials and Gen Z perceive their own experience as astonishingly bleak. Why are they so sad and angry? Maybe it’s that their lives lack meaning. Nihilism breeds despair. It is meaninglessness in an ocean of prosperity. They cannot fill that God-shaped hole in their hearts with hookups and booze and drugs or social media.

A Society of Sadness

My friend Cherie Harder of the Trinity Forum has summed it up wonderfully: “These are lonely times. By many measures, rates of loneliness in the US have doubled. We are more likely to live alone, to lack confidantes, to feel ourselves abandoned in the world. We report enjoying fewer friendships, particularly close ones. And we increasingly doubt the good faith and motives of those around us, particularly those of different political persuasions.

“The consequences are harsh. The more isolated we feel, the more likely we are to get hurt, sick, addicted, or depressed, and die prematurely. And our very alienation also leaves us less likely to reach out to others, to join groups, to vote, to volunteer, to worship, to make efforts to connect with others – or even see the point of doing so. Those who don't see the point of making an effort will often look for a scapegoat to blame for their frustration – and generally find what they are looking for. The result? Even more, disconnection, fueled by resentment.

“Such angry loneliness is misery for those that suffer from it. But the problems do not end there. In fact, new problems start precisely at the point of convergence of growing public distrust and disconnection. As dangerous as loneliness is for the individual, it can be even more destructive to society.”

No Way Out

James Howard Kunstler states: "This is exactly what you get in a culture where anything goes, and nothing matters. Extract all the meaning and purpose from being here on earth, and erase as many boundaries as you can from custom and behavior, and watch what happens, especially among young men.”

Kunstler describes our boys living in an "abyss of missing social relations" with "no communities, no fathers, no mentors, no initiations into personal responsibility, no daily organizing principles, no instruction in useful trades, no productive activities, no opportunities for love and affection, and no way out."

Suicide rates for young Americans are the highest ever measured. So are drug-related deaths.

Fifty years ago, more than 80% of American adults ages 25 to 34 were married. Today, it is 29%. An enormous number of young Americans are not in any relationship at all.

Alone and Homeless

Besides the epidemic of loneliness and despair, homelessness is also a product of the wildly successful campaign by the Left to destroy normal intimacy, holy matrimony, the family, our schools, universities, and culture.

As Christopher F. Rufo writes in City Journal: “For the past 70 years, sociologists, political scientists, and theologians have documented the slow atomization of society. As family and community bonds weaken, our most vulnerable citizens fall victim to the addiction, mental illness, isolation, poverty, and despair that almost always precipitate the final slide into homelessness.”

Alice Baum and Donald Burnes wrote in their book Nation in Denial: The Truth About Homelessness: “Homelessness is a condition of disengagement from ordinary society—from family, friends, neighborhood, church, and community.

“Poor people who have family ties, teenaged mothers who have support systems, mentally ill individuals who are able to maintain social and family relationships, alcoholics who are still connected to their friends and jobs, even drug addicts who manage to remain part of their community do not become homeless. Homelessness occurs when people no longer have relationships; they have drifted into isolation; without the support networks, they could count on in the past."

Too many Americans are lonely among a sea of strangers, depressed despite marvelous material blessings, and die what has become known as 'deaths of despair.'

Comments

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    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      8 days ago from Chicago

      Patricia Scott ~ Thank you so much for coming over to read my article. It is a sincere pleasure to hear from you again. This loneliness issue is near and dear to my heart. I see it all around me. I appreciate the angles. I think we can turn it around by bringing back holy matrimony and intact families.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      10 days ago from sunny Florida

      O dear this is so tragic. I visited my sister in Florida in an assisted living facility often. She was alone when I arrived but her children did visit her. The many who sat in wheelchairs around the place were lonely. They had that sad look of despair and despondency on their faces...it was not a 'living' facility at all. My question is: how do we turn this around? Angels are headed your way and to the many many who are lonely tonite. ps

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 weeks ago from Chicago

      Yves ~ I so enjoyed reading your thoughtful insights. You are a discerning soul. You 'see' it. What a tragic commentary on the state of our society that, as you said so well, "Most of the young men who write into one of my most popular articles are so lonely, they are unable to flourish."

      Thank you for reading my work here. I appreciate your lovely laudations.

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 

      4 weeks ago

      James....an excellent article. I could not agree more that low birth rates and fractured families may be to blame for the current epidemic of loneliness. In America, specifically, the secularization of our society and the emphasis on self-as-all-knowing is weakening our .

      Most of the young men who write into one of my most popular articles are so lonely, they are unable to flourish. It's a sad predicament indeed.

      Without a Higher Power in one's life, minds and spirits will eventually unravel. These days, it is happening more quickly.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 weeks ago from Chicago

      Cristine Santander ~ Thank you for reading my article. I surely agree with your wonderful comments: "We can be victorious over loneliness and depression if we will learn to dwell upon God's presence daily. There will be a time of refreshing for those who seeks to dwell in God's presence." Amen sister!

    • cristina327 profile image

      Cristine Santander 

      6 weeks ago from Manila

      Loneliness I may say is an inevitable episode of life. But as Christians, we need not dwell on this predicament. We can be victorious over loneliness and depression if we will learn to dwell upon God's presence daily. There will be a time of refreshing for those who seeks to dwell in God's presence. God will always be just a prayer away.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 weeks ago from Chicago

      Leslie A. Shields ~ Thank you kindly for coming over to read my work. I am so glad you liked it and said so. God Bless You.

    • LeslieAdrienne profile image

      Leslie A. Shields 

      6 weeks ago from Georgia

      Magnifcently written! God bless you!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 weeks ago from Chicago

      Dave McClure ~ Yes, you've got a great point there. There is something to be said for homogeneity, for instance, in a society.

      As much as we are preached at about the wonderful benefits of diversity, it does not match reality. Studies show that Social Trust is eroded by ethnic diversity in all neighborhoods—the opposite of what liberal elites (who rarely live in diverse neighborhoods) predicted.

      People who live in communities with the greatest diversity have the lowest trust in local government; and they trust their neighbors less—even those of the same ethnicity. They are less likely to give to charity; to work on projects for their community; to perceive that they have a good quality of life; and they even have fewer close friends. The more diverse a neighborhood the higher rate of crime it suffers. Most of its problems must then be solved by the police or social welfare bureaucracies.

      Besides that, social science shows that religious people live longer, are healthier, and happier than non-religious people. Of course, there is some dispute about what "religious" means, what with Marxism and maybe even Darwinism qualifying as religion. So I guess we could say "belief" in God makes people better neighbors, healthier, happier, and longer lived.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 weeks ago from Chicago

      Peg Cole ~ Thank you for coming by to read my article. I appreciate your insightful comments. It is sad that it has come to this. As you say, "So many never had company for lunch, never had a visit from relatives or social interaction with anyone other than the caregivers."

      I think everybody wants to be loved, to matter to other people. As you noted, "you could visibly see the faces of residents light up when someone came specifically to see them."

      I think back to when my grandmother died. In the hospital she must have had eight children and forty grandchildren who visited. They were all 100% blood relatives of hers. Now with fractured families, God bless them, with four or five marriages each, how can you even plan a family reunion, which I have read may soon be a thing of the past. I mean, do you want your exes there, even if they are your children's fathers or mothers, and their parents, the grandparents of your children? How about ex-aunts and uncles?

      I surely agree with you, Peg, "It's interesting to see what truly becomes important to us when we have so little left of our lives, when work, money, and possessions become irrelevant and friends and family become of the utmost importance."

      Yes.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 

      7 weeks ago from Kyle, Scotland

      None of the very religious societies, e.g. Saudi, India, Pakistan, feature in your list of loneliness. This suggests to me that faith, even misguided faith (for you consider their beliefs false) is more important than truth, for mental health. Do you agree?

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      7 weeks ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      When my mother and her sister were still alive, I spent many hours at the nursing home visiting while also observing the other residents. So many never had company for lunch, never had a visit from relatives or social interaction with anyone other than the caregivers. Thankfully, there were workers who did a great job engaging those willing to participate in the activities, but you could visibly see the faces of residents light up when someone came specifically to see them. It's interesting to see what truly becomes important to us when we have so little left of our lives, when work, money, and possessions become irrelevant and friends and family become of the utmost importance.

      Your article is eye-opening about the decline of Christianity within our young people and in college students. That explains so very much about the direction society has taken. I had no idea that folks were this isolated in other countries as well.

      It is well expressed by the Kunstler quote, "anything goes, and nothing matters". . . "no communities, no fathers, no mentors, no initiations into personal responsibility, no daily organizing principles, no instruction in useful trades, no productive activities, no opportunities for love and affection, and no way out."

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago

      Vivian Coblentz ~ Your comments never fail to be not only interesting but heartfelt and insightful - real. I love the way you ended your remarks: "The best way to cheer yourself up is to do something for someone else. I hope this article will serve as an incentive for all of us to make changes to reach out to those who need it and to sow the right kind of seed so we won't end up lonely too."

      Amen!

      Thank you for reading my work.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago

      De Greek ~ Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article. I find your comments about the Philippines truly fascinating. It is amazing that the people there are "the least lonely people in the world. ... which has found the means to happiness, despite their poverty. Offering support to each other, as the Filipinos do, erases loneliness."

      I appreciate the enlightenment on that. It is good to hear from you again.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago

      Lorna Lamon ~ Thank you for reading my article. God Bless You for visiting "age care homes as part of a 'crisis in care' commitment project run by the Red Cross."

      I love what you wrote here: "Connecting with someone who is lonely can save their life and enhance your own in so many ways. We should all reach out."

      Yes indeed. I agree wholeheartedly and I think we should.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago

      Sally Gulbrandsen ~ It is good to hear from you across the pond there. This does seem to be affecting the whole Western World, which I guess has been joined by Japan in most ways.

      I see what you saying about driving people away. I once read something about government social security, that it tore ties that bind because people used to have to be nice to one another since they would depend on their family, neighbors, and community when they got old or got hurt but now with checks from the state coming in there is no more need for such as that.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago

      Pamela Oglesby ~ I sincerely appreciate you coming over to read my article. I had been hearing a lot about this lately and was compelled to write about it. I appreciate your insightful remarks and your kind compliments. I have known quite a few people, old friends, who died alone and no even bothered to have a funeral for them. It is a lot different from Norman Rockwell America where a family matriarch or patriarch might pass in a big bed at home surrounded by children and grandchildren. In the center of love.

    • Noelle7 profile image

      Vivian Coblentz 

      7 weeks ago

      This situation is sad but very true. There is definitely a connection between those who fall away from faith because without God, there is no hope.

      Social media is a huge contributor also to loneliness. People feel a faux sense of connection when they can "chat" with people online, but it's so artificial and without depth.

      Americans keep themselves too busy as well. Over-commitment keeps people running without connecting.

      As a culture, we fail to be other-centered and selfishly put our own needs first. The best way to cheer yourself up is to do something for someone else.

      I hope this article will serve as an incentive for all of us to make changes to reach out to those who need it and to sow the right kind of seed so we won't end up lonely too.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      7 weeks ago from UK

      The Philippines has the least lonely people in the world. Sometimes I think that the Filipinos are a super human race which has found the means to happiness, despite their poverty.

      Offering support to each other, as the Filipinos do, erases loneliness.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      7 weeks ago

      Heartbreaking and true. I visit age care homes as part of a 'crisis in care' commitment project run by the Red Cross. The reason behind the crisis is loneliness which leads to anxiety and depression. I have seen an increase in this issue among adults of all ages and I feel that loneliness should be classified as an illness and treated as such. Connecting with someone who is lonely can save their life and enhance your own in so many ways. We should all reach out.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      7 weeks ago from Norfolk

      This is depressingly sad but so true. Lonely elderly people live all around me, some of their loneliness brought on by themselves because of their sometimes bad attitude to others during their healthy years. Transport in rural areas is infrequent and limits their ability to get out, especially if they are living in poverty, don't drive or cannot afford to run a car. The TV has become their sole companion and even this is under threat as BBC decides to free TV licences for those over 75.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      James, I must say this is a rather depressing article. Obviously, many people are not living to their fullest potential. I know of churches that offer a lot of support, but they do not attract enough people anymore. I know families just aren't as big as they once were, so it seems we as a society need to do something different.

      It is so sad that people around the world are so lonely. This is a well-written article with so many sources that it really reflects the large number of lonely people.

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