In 1966, the Beatles wrote about Eleanor Rigby and the lonliness and depression she experienced:
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Loneliness is something that most of us will feel at times in our lives. Some of us living in the city crave a quiet moment to ourselves from time to time, to reflect and think. Time for self is important, but loneliness is something completely different. It is never sought, and never wanted. Loneliness is something which happens to us but never by choice. It is little consolation for those already living with loneliness to know they are not alone in their suffering. There are many people today, facing the same situation. Recent research shows that people who have experience loneliness for over 3 years are likely to continue to experience loneliness.
Australian Experiences of Lonliness
An Australian survey of 20,000 people known as the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) asked respondents, among other things, to rate their lonliness. Survey administrators asked respondents to rate their response to 10 statements pertaining to lonliness. These questions included such statements as “People don’t come to visit me as often as I’d like” and “I seem to have a lot of friends.”
David Baker of the Australian Institute in Canberra prepared a report based on HILDA information called All the lonely people.
In his report, Baker defines loneliness as: “The mismatch between the relationships we desire and the reality we are currently living.”
David Baker has been recorded as saying: “In any given year 1 in 10 of us is experiencing loneliness. But because people come in and out of it and other people come in, over that last 10 years three out of 10 of us have experienced loneliness. That transition rate is increasing, so more people are moving into loneliness.”
Issues Surrounding Loneliness
The following findings, based on the HILDA study, were also in the report:
1. The role played by social media in peoples experience of lonliness is not concise. Networking has a part to play in accessing social support. However, people who access social networks because they feel lonely do not always consider the people they meet online as friends.
2. When a couple has children, the risk of experiencing loneliness is higher. This is due to the amount of time, money, and energy it takes to raise a family. When family commitments take over, couples find there is less time for friends. The children grow up and leave home, leaving a void.
3. Instances of loneliness are as high in the cities as they are in rural areas.
4. People who are either living alone or in single-parent families are twice as likely to suffer from loneliness as couples.
5. The most at risk from being lonely are young women with low incomes.
6. Loneliness is more prevalent in men under the age of 60.
David Baker warns that the results of the HILDA study play down the actual instances of loneliness in Australia. In his report, he cites other national studies which show more frequent occurrences of loneliness. The largest problem with the HILDA study was with how the results were interpreted. For example, respondents needed to score negatively on all ten questions to be considered lonely. It is therefore extremely likely that more people are actually suffering from loneliness than were identified by the HILDA study.
A Social Issue
Loneliness becomes a social issue when people try to make changes in their lives but find that they can’t because there is no social infrastructure available to help them. This kind of constraint is arguably outside the citizen’s control and indeed Baker stresses how the findings in his report have implications for government policy.
People living alone need access to vital services like outreach programs or activity groups to help them form new friendships. Some find themselves alone as they find it hard to establish and maintain relationships. Education, counselling and social support are vital in these cases.