Reprinted from the Loneliness and Social Connection issue of Visions Journal, 2019, 14 (3), p. 4
The way a baby is soothed by voice and touch. The way 'mirror neurons' in our brain apparently prod us to feel things that we just witnessed someone else feel or do. The way tickling and laughing are pretty hard to do without other humans involved. Never doubt: We are still tribal. At our very core, humans are designed to be connected, loved, accepted and needed.
Several of our previous issues have been culminating in a way toward this theme. You will find currents of loneliness and belonging running through recent issues on gambling/gaming, language, opioids, self-injury, stigma—the list goes on. And no surprise there: Social disconnect is both a potential risk factor and consequence of mental health and substance use problems. You know, we talk a lot about financial poverty but social poverty is just as profound.
Yet the thing is, like anger or anxiety, loneliness is normal. We all experience it from time to time and in small doses it’s useful because it tells us something. Just like anger tells us something's wrong or unjust and can spur us to solve a problem, loneliness is telling us that we’re not getting what we need from our relationships. Still, unlike a host of emotions we have no problems talking about, there is a lot of stigma and shame surrounding loneliness. Few people find it easy to admit they are lonely. It feels like failure or weakness to do so.
I think Western culture has something to do with it. We live in a society that values independence, self-sufficiency, confidence, popularity—heck, we even count and display 'likes' on social media. Yet loneliness is a vulnerable state as it signals that we probably need to share more of ourselves to get the connections we want, but we may fear we are not, well, likeable. Then, fear of rejection may cause us to withdraw. But as a quote I once read about loneliness reminds: "We sometimes think we want to disappear, but what we really want is to be found."
There is good news: Being socially connected is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death1 and the quantity and quality of our relationships is something we can change. This publication won't solve our society's plague of social disconnect but I hope, like usual, it helps shine a light and that reading the stories helps you feel a little less alone and a little more hopeful.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division