Loneliness, A Health Hazard

A person can feel lonely in a crowded room.

Loneliness, A Health Hazard

Allan Schwartz

“I am a lonely person

I have many people around me

But the feeling of loneliness

It’s deeply seated in me

The birds are chirping

I can hear the voices

My kids are chatting around

But I feel lonely,

I am a lonely person……

Poem by Asma Khan

What is loneliness? How is it defined?

Loneliness is a feeling of sadness because of a perceived lack of companionship, friendship, or any social bond or relationship. Sometimes people have friends but still feel lonely because they don’t feel fully seen or understood.

What is the leading cause of loneliness?

Low self-esteem and depression cause loneliness.) contributing factors to loneliness include physical isolation, moving to a new location, and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

The word, lonely, is used here. It has nothing to do with being alone. As the poem above states, it’s possible to be surrounded by people, even loved ones, yet feel lonely.

In reality, loneliness is a state of mind. In that state of mind, people feel empty, alone, and unwanted. Lonely people often want human contact. Still, their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness is a damaging state of mind. It damages one’s mental and physical health.

For twenty years, John Cacioppo, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, has studied loneliness. He is the co-author of a recent book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” The book’s central theme is that loneliness causes physical illness. For example, studies show that social isolation and loneliness increase the flow of stress hormones. Stress hormones are those that make us alert when danger is present. 

When someone is lonely, they produce stress hormones with no real threat. As a result, the immune system is damaged, causing a vulnerability to viral diseases. The impact on the cardiovascular system is such that it leads to stroke and heart attack. Blood pressure increases, sleep is disturbed, and the aging process speeds up. The chronic stress caused by loneliness can even hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Cacioppo, some of the adverse effects of loneliness are:

* Depression and suicide

* Cardiovascular disease and stroke

* Increased stress levels

* Decreased memory and learning

* Antisocial behavior

* Poor decision-making

* Alcoholism and drug abuse

* The progression of Alzheimer’s disease

* Altered brain function.”

James J. Lynch, Ph.D., published a brilliant book a few years ago called “A Cry Unheard.” What is significant about the message Dr. Lynch conveys is that loneliness results from failure to communicate, engage in discourse, and be committed to each other and the community. 

In addition, Dr. Lynch clarifies it is not merely talking that makes up communication but the type of talk vitally crucial to human health. He coins the phrase “toxic talk” to describe a speech that destroys the other person’s self-esteem and well-being. The destruction of that self-esteem leads to loneliness and early heart disease, followed by death. Criticism, negativity, lack of praise, warm feelings, rejection, and other factors that increase alienation and distance between people characterize toxic talk. According to Dr. Lynch, toxic talk increases social isolation and leads to early death.

Listed are a few suggestions that Dr. Cacioppo provides on how to overcome loneliness:

1. Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.

2. Understand the effects of loneliness on your physical and mental life.

3. Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present tremendous opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.

4. Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.

5. Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.

How do you cope when you feel lonely?

 

Our Existential Crisis and Violence in America

A sense of meaninglessness has set in among many of our young people resulting in increasing numbers of mass murders and homicides throughout the nation

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want. I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas, and principles. Although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child. I feel quite independent of anyone.” Anne Frank.

An existential crisis refers to feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life. Whether referred to as an existential crisis, or existential anxiety, the main concerns are the same: that life is inherently pointless, that our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, and that we all must die someday.

Existential anxiety arises during transitions and reflects difficulty adapting, often related to losing safety and security.

 For example, a college student moving away from home or an adult going through a difficult divorce might feel that the foundation on which their life was built is crumbling. This can lead to questioning the meaning of their existence.

I hear more people asserting that we are approaching not only the end of the United States but of humanity. There seems to be a pervasive feeling that there is no future. What accompanies this dismal way of viewing life today is that life has become meaningless. Perhaps this is the real reason there are ever-increasing numbers of mass shootings. There is a term for this sense of emptiness, and it’s anomie.

Anomie is defined as personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty. It comes from a lack of purpose or ideals. What is fueling these awful, empty feelings? People often cite such things as climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s increasing military might, economic problems, racism, the Pandemic, social media’s negative influence, and the prevalence of guns in our society.

None of this is to suggest that these problems are unimportant. Instead, it’s a mistake to retreat into the hopeless belief that life has no meaning. It’s incumbent on each of us to find meaning in life. Existential psychotherapy aims in that direction. 

Finding meaning in life is fundamental to finding a purpose or set of personal goals for ourselves. It is also vital to transmitting our values and meanings to our children.

In feeling that life has no meaning, people transmit that hopeless way of thinking to our children.

Values and Ethics

An essential part of the meaning in life has to do with values and ethics. The University of Texas defines values and ethics in this way:

“Ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

“The term values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act. They serve as a guide for human behavior.

People are predisposed to adopt the values they are raised with. People also believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.

Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.

Still, other values are sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than factors to be weighed in decision-making.”

From Politico Magazine:

Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, or extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and often rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.

What’s different from traditional suicide is that the self-hate turns against a group. The hate turns outward. They ask themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group, women, religious group, or are my classmates? There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety.

Taken from an article published in Politico:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762

Making Life Meaningful Begins at Home:

An important fact deeply connected to mindless violence and meaninglessness is that we must begin with young children by teaching the essential values of morals, ethics, respect for life, and empathy for others.

Empathy for the plight of others is very positive and powerful. In it, the empathetic person can imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel. In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one suffering. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy because of feeling what the other feels. 

None of this implies that there is anything wrong with empathy. Simply put, we need a combination of empathy and compassion to be most helpful to people.

Existential Psychotherapy

The theory behind existential therapy helps people explore life’s difficulties from a philosophical perspective. It suggests that your source of inner conflict is the confrontation you have with the issues of life. Instead of looking back into your past, look at the here and now. Try to get meaning out of any given situation. In doing so, you can end the fear of the unknown that grips you way too often. The bottom line of this therapy approach is to encourage you to take responsibility for your success.

America and American families must face the existential crisis among young people. If not, mass murders will continue, and racism and other forms of intergroup conflict.

 

Children, Teens and Suicide

Suicides among young people continue to be a severe problem. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 15-to-24-year-olds.

Most children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually depression. Among younger children, suicide attempts are often impulsive. They may be associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Now, however, childhood and teen suicide statistics are complicated by the Covid Pandemic. Even though schools are now open in most communities throughout the United States, parents report that many young people do not want to return to school. While remote learning carried many disadvantages, some children found it reassuring to remain at home with the family.

Children’s suicide attempts have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

COVID-19 has led to significant changes in the dynamics of children’s suicide attempts, according to the results of a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

.

“Recent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders,” Anthony Cousien, Ph.D., of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote. “Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19–related stressors heightened in 2020. 

The researchers analyzed data of 830 children aged 15 years or younger (mean age, 13.5 years; 1:4 ratio of boys to girls) with suicide attempt history admitted to the pediatric Emergency Department of a single hospital between January 2010 and April 2021. They defined a suicide attempt as “a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die because of the behavior.”

Cousien and colleagues speculated that children’s specific sensitivity to mitigation measures, adverse effects on family health and economic conditions, increased screen time, and social media use or bereavement may have affected this acceleration.

Social media is also a significant risk factor for teen suicide.

Suicide rates among teenagers have seen a drastic increase from 2007 to the present. Social media has become a prevalent way of life. Another risk factor may be media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths, possibly leading to an increased number of suicides.

Among teenagers, suicide attempts come with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to solve their problems.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The child or adolescent needs to have their illness recognized, diagnosed, and appropriately treated with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts are often associated with depression. Besides depression, other risk factors include:

  • family history of suicide attempts
  • exposure to violence
  • impulsivity
  • aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • access to firearms
  • bullying
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • acute loss or rejection

Children and adolescents thinking about suicide may make openly suicidal statements or comments such as, “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.” Other warning signs associated with suicide can include:

  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • frequent or pervasive sadness
  • withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • preoccupation with death and dying

Young people thinking about suicide may also stop planning for or talking about the future. They may give away important possessions.

People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking your child or adolescent whether they are depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?
  • Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

Rather than putting thoughts in your child’s head, these questions can assure that somebody cares and will give your child the chance to talk about problems.

Parents, teachers, and friends should always err on caution and safety. Any child or adolescent with suicidal thoughts or plans should be evaluated immediately by a trained mental health professional.

 No matter which boat you are in, remember that it doesn’t help to blame yourself as a parent.

Whether you are a parent, helping your teenager prevent suicide, or have lost your teenager to suicide, find a community and gather them close around you. You may find that this community is people in the church, friends, or other parents who have faced the same challenges. Keep a close connection with safe people and walk on this journey with others. Remember that you are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

800-273-8255

Lifeline

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org