Why Are We Lonely and What Can We Do About It?

Why Are We Lonely and What Can We Do About It?

More than 37 million people are living in Canada, yet many Canadians have never felt more alone. The Angus Reid Institute and the Cardus think tank collaborated on a recent study that found that an astonishing 23 percent of the country experiences extreme loneliness and social isolation. That isolation correlates with many negative side effects that can have an impact on every area of a person’s life.  

“Social isolation and loneliness are a symptom of our culture’s obsession with personal autonomy, leaving us living life as ‘I’ instead of ‘we,’” said Cardus Executive Vice President Ray Pennings. “In doing so, we reap the poorer financial, mental, and physical health associated with isolation and loneliness, possibly making us more vulnerable to things like drug abuse, suicide, and debt.”

The trouble is that people who are socially isolated often feel as if they don’t have anyone they can turn to for help during an emergency. That can be true whether they’re dealing with a mental health crisis or trying to figure out how to pay an unexpected bill. Respectively, 18 and 33 percent of the respondents didn’t know who they could count on for support in such situations.

When those problems do arise, they can quickly spiral out of control if they are not dealt with in a timely manner. This is ultimately why social isolation can be so debilitating: one problem makes it more difficult to deal with other problems, and it can be overwhelming for someone trying to handle everything on their own.

This is especially true for people with disabilities, who experience social isolation at a much higher rate (38 percent) than the rest of the population. Many Canadians no longer check in on their neighbours on a day-to-day basis. Someone who isn’t physically able to leave the house (or struggles to do so) is much more likely to be left alone for long periods, which is why it’s so important for friends and family members to reach out to those they care about.

Thankfully, there are things that people can do to mitigate the effects of isolation. Married people (or those in common-law relationships) were far less likely to feel extreme isolation. Three-quarters of people with no symptoms of isolation were in a long term relationship, and the pattern was similar for those with children, if only because the act of living with other people means that all of those people will generally spend less time alone.

Cardus and Angus Reid also found that religion tended to have a positive social influence in people’s lives. Those who attended regular services of any denomination felt less lonely than those who were not engaged with some kind of religious organization.

For those who are not religious, the key take away is that it’s beneficial to have some kind of community. Structured activities will offer more opportunities to interact with people, which can greatly reduce feelings of social isolation.

In Canada, many people share feelings of loneliness and isolation. The challenge is to find a way to connect so that no one has to feel like they’re going through life alone.

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