Every 40 seconds, someone takes their own life. And many times the culprit is loneliness, as loneliness and suicide often go hand-in-hand.
Last year over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season I wrote a series of posts on depression. Two posts covered SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and two covered depression in general. I also told you about my past struggles with depression and anti-depressants.
But today I want to take a different tack and discuss loneliness and its worst-case result – suicide. Not a pleasant topic to be sure, but with what seems to be a suicide pandemic it is something that needs to be addressed.
Father McKenzie and Eleanor Rigby
The 1966 hit from the Beatles, Eleanor Rigby, is a beautiful yet sad, haunting ballad about the extremely lonely Eleanor Rigby. Eleanor appears to be the only parishioner in the church shepherded by the equally lonely Father McKenzie, as evidenced by the lines which speak of him sitting all alone and writing a sermon that no one will hear. Except perhaps, for Eleanor.
The chorus pretty much says it all: “Ah, look at all the lonely people…”
Eventually, Eleanor dies from what would seem to be loneliness; she died the way she lived, alone – and with no funeral and no one attending her burial except Father McKenzie.
As a very young child I would hear that song and wonder, why didn’t those two get together? There they were, in church together, right under each other’s noses, yet all alone…
I always pictured them as being elderly. But loneliness is no respecter of age, social class, ethnicity, gender, or income bracket. It doesn’t care if someone has enough celebrity status to make them a household name or is a complete unknown.
No one is immune.
According to a recent survey done by Cigna, out of 20,000 adults, nearly half of them reported feelings of loneliness. Only slightly over half of them said they had daily, meaningful in-person interactions or conversations with others.
Those of Generation Z, who for this study were young adults age 18-22, said they were the loneliest generation and in the worst health than the older generations.
And strangely enough, social media alone was not a predictor of loneliness, as the heavy users of social media were only slightly more lonely than those who claimed to never use it. Strange because, according to a newer study done with millennials, social media contributes significantly to depression in the group.
And if loneliness and suicide go hand-in-hand, so do loneliness and depression. A lonely person isn’t necessarily depressed, but they often are, and loneliness can easily lead to depression.
Why the Loneliness?
There is a myriad of reasons (besides social media) people are suffering from loneliness now more than ever, but here are just a few:
- Rise in singleness and childlessness – Granted, many people who choose to be single and/or childless lead fulfilled lives and are well-connected with others. But this isn’t the case for every one of them, and especially when you factor in the those who want to be married and have kids and it hasn’t yet happened, or divorcees who did not choose to divorce.
- Long working hours – Those bigger paychecks may not be worth it, as many people who work a lot of overtime simply don’t have the time or energy to spend on face-to-face interpersonal relationships. The increasing isolation can lead to increasing loneliness.
- Sleep deprivation – This may seem like a strange reason to be lonely, but according to a study done by the University of California Berkely, the sleep-deprived person may have neither the energy nor the desire to socially interact. This, in turn, leads to them being perceived by others as being socially unappealing, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
- The older generation – These folks are retiring, plus as they age, friends and family members in their age group begin dying. The vicious cycle rears its ugly head here as these older folks become lonely, which in turn raises their risk of early death by as much as 45%.
We don’t have to live lonely, secluded lives of quiet desperation or, when we are out, be alone in a sea of faces. We can connect.
It can be easier said than done, especially for those of us who tend to be introverts, but just taking that first step makes all the difference. Here are some things we can all do, whether we suffer from loneliness or know someone who does – things that foster a sense of community and caring.
- Get outta’ here! It may seem obvious that getting out of the house is a necessary first step, but for many people that first step is one of the hardest. Go for a walk and invite a neighbor to come along, leaving your phone at home or at least silenced. If the weather is bad, invite your neighbor in. Join a local church or club; attend local festivals and farmer’s market (you could even bring that neighbor), and be friendly! The possibilities to strike up conversations are endless if you just keep your eyes and ears open.
- Join a gym, or other health-related or sports-related organization, or a community garden. Again, be friendly and reach out to people. No community garden? You could start one.
- Volunteer somewhere. It could be with an organization, or it could mean striking out on your own without an organizational structure, like visiting the elderly in assisted living and nursing homes. Plus, if you’re artistic, you could volunteer to help with arts and crafts; if you’re musically inclined, you could volunteer to play for them. If you have friendly, mellow pets, some hospitals and nursing homes will even let you bring them in for pet therapy.
And there are many other places to volunteer as well: local food banks, homeless shelters, libraries, urban (or rural) trail restoration and maintenance… even local prisons and jails.
Yes, I said prisons and jails. These folks need love too. I know some women who bring who their live music to a women’s prison near here, a church group who bakes and delivers cookies to the same prison and visits with the inmates, and another ministry who bring Bible studies to this and other prisons and jails in our state. I also know a chaplain who drives from one end of our state to the other in order to shine some light into these dark places.
I realize that prison ministry is not for everyone, nor are hospitals, homeless shelters, or nursing homes, but that’s okay, because there are perhaps, as many different volunteer opportunities as there are personalities.
And the beauty of the above suggestions is that reaching out and doing any of these things works whether you are lonely yourself, or simply want to help someone else who is.
Don’t Ignore it!
It’s natural and normal to feel lonely from time to time. Sometimes it can even be a healthy emotion, albeit an unpleasant one. For instance, if someone you love dies, breaks up with (or divorces) you or simply moves away, of course, you’d feel lonely for a while. It would be weird not to.
Or you may have random feelings of loneliness assail you now and then, and you’re not sure why, but they quickly pass and it’s no big deal.
But if you feel you are drowning in loneliness and always will be, that there’s no help, no hope, and no future — or know someone who feels that way — please reach out for help. Although the suggestions above could possibly be sure-fire cures for many cases of loneliness, those suffering the most severely may need something more.
And sometimes it just seems impossible to take any of those steps.
In that case, take a step to your phone and call someone for help. Call a friend or family member, or anyone who you think may be able to help. Don’t have anyone like that? It’s okay, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, even if you or the person you care about are not contemplating suicide.
Here is an excellent post by Natasha Tracy on that very subject.
And here is the Lifeline’s number and website address: 1-800-273-8255; or chat with them here.
I hope this post has been helpful to you in some way. Please share and help others!