One of the saddest things I remember is an old man on the street staring at me. He seemed to be enquiring whether he knew me. I said hello. He looked at me blankly.  I asked if I could help and waited a few moments, but he didn’t respond. I was late for work so rushed off down the road. He didn’t look homeless… But later it bothered me.  Was he lost? Or waiting  for someone?

A few months later, in the park at lunchtime, an old lady pushing a trolley full of clutter stopped near me.. Sadly not that much of a usual sight I know. I asked her name. She seemed frail. Unsure what to do, I gave her some money. I  decided to find out what could be done… 

There are organisations to help homeless people, especially in London. The police said no one needs to be homeless, there are enough shelters for everyone. Many (not all) beggars choose that life, may be on drugs, living in squats and don’t want to be part of mainstream society. However these are not who I am talking about. I am referring to people wandering around on their own, NOT begging, and who have been on the streets for years, probably with mental health issues, and this old lady was one of them.  The police were kindhearted and suggested some charities. One said they would look for her.  The real problem is that no one cared enough about her to help sort her life out – perhaps her family were dead.  The real culprit? Separation and isolation.

We now have a Minister for Loneliness. You may be shocked – but it shows the sorry state of society that we should even think of it! Chronic loneliness is one of the saddest things a human being can feel – especially as it’s so unnecessary, and leads to isolation and social exclusion, depleting one’s will to live… . Even though our society is now more tolerant than ever before,  loneliness is increasing – over nine million people in the UK say they are lonely – and over half of people aged 75 plus, live alone.   There are many organisations dedicated to combating it but yet it’s one of the hardest things to admit… .There was a recent charity campaign about old people going weeks without speaking to ANYONE…! How on earth did this happen?

How shaming that we, one of the most successful countries in the world, are facing a loneliness epidemic!

Also sadly, the biggest surge in loneliness recently has been in Generation Y – those aged 18 to 35 – who use  social media and are tech savvy, which seems to fuel feelings of isolation and not being good enough when seeing the ‘fabulous’ fake lives online that others claim to have.   So it seems it’s not just old  or homeless people who feel lonely – it affects the young even more, leading to anxiety and depression. 

Loneliness is becoming Britain’s most lethal illness, increasing mortality risk more than  smoking or obesity… 

So what caused this in our modern society? Well, we no longer lead the community-based lives we are designed for and used to live not so long ago. Humans are deeply social and cannot function alone.  Even so called ‘loners’ need to be around others. We are meant to live in families, communities and groups, to interact and feel connected with others.  If not, we eventually lose the will to keep trying, and illnesses are exacerbated by feelings of loneliness, which worsens over time, as the longer you feel that way, the harder it is to overcome.

Factors causing this phenomenon are the increase in divorce (the government making this even easier won’t help), decrease in marriage and permanent relationships, women made to feel single motherhood is the ‘norm’, fathers feeling unnecessary in children’s lives, old people in care homes rather than with family, children at pre and after school clubs and nurseries instead of with their parents, the working from home revolution, people so busy working to survive financially they don’t know their neighbours, lack of community spirit, the demise of church-going, social media making young people feel inadequate, insecure, depressed and anxious, and even mass immigration – communicating with neighbours is harder if you have different languages/cultures, making it especially hard for elderly people to feel part of a community – so becoming  isolated.  No wonder some lie dead for weeks with no one noticing… 

This ‘disconnection’ was unheard of at any age two or three generations ago when everyone knew everyone where you lived and anyone on their own moved in with family.  I can only think a lot of this is caused by too much state interference and too much emphasis on money – we need so much of it to just pay our bills and mortgages – we are stuck on a hamster wheel of work, debt and keeping up appearances.. And apparently one in three families are only one payday from homelessness… It is destroying our quality of life and health. How quickly we are paying the price … Isolation and separation causes the same bodily trauma as physical pain!  

Until recently, no one lived alone as we naturally understood the need to be with others, just as all other animals from ants to elephants need to live in groups.  We understood that not to do so could only increase illness and make death come quicker…   

Modern society, with all its emphasis on health, ageless ageing, money, success, and having it all has forgotten the most important thing – belonging. We all need to feel loved, valued and most of all – NEEDED – by others and by our community – ‘a leaf on a tree’. It hasn’t taken long  to affect us – loneliness is the biggest health epidemic we are facing.  

And the sadness in our society is staring at us from behind closed doors all over the land… 

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