In most western countries where life is not communal loneliness is becoming a problem of concern particularly among the elderly. Unfortunately, the symptomatology, frequency and intensity of loneliness remain largely unexplored by psychologists, psychiatrists as well as sociologists. Song writers seem more concerned about loneliness than social scientists. So far no scientific theory has been developed with which people afflicted by loneliness can start coping with its manifestations. Harry Stack Sullivan was one of the four psychologists who showed interest in the pathology of loneliness in the 19th century. He claimed that “The fact that loneliness will lead to integrations in the face of severe anxiety automatically means that loneliness in itself is more terrible than anxiety.”
Loneliness is such a frightful experience that we try to do almost anything to avoid it and if we have experienced it in the past we tend to dissociate the sadness which accompanied it, according to MIT Press. The stigma often attached to loneliness only serves to aggravate the condition more. Society has a tendency to view lonely people as shy and intentionally reclusive individuals with a propensity toward self-pitying and deliberate self-protective isolation. All they need to do, we reason, is to get their act together and snap out of their self-inflicted emotional handicap, which tends to thrive in handouts of sympathy and pity. This mindset can intensify impatience against lonely individuals. But loneliness can be a comorbid condition along with depression and grief, thus making it even more complicated as a disorder. A study conducted by Steptoe and associates among lonely elderly people, revealed that decreased financial resources, natural vigor and mobility impairment as well as the death of peers and contemporaries can easily limit the scope of the social contacts of the elderly, thus squeezing them into a debilitating socioeconomic corner. In such cases loneliness can be a risk factor for cognitive impairment, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease and even mortality. However, membership to a support group can be a means for lonely individuals to get back to being themselves. It can also hasten the realization of their fundamental connectedness and intrinsic value to the world around them even in their separateness. An American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)-commissioned survey revealed that about 35% of respondents were lonely. Loneliness was also found to be a predictor for a general poor health profile among participants.
The Bible tells us to be kind to one another. That includes being sensitive and sympathetic to the lonely; refraining from the temptation to be judgmental about situations we do not fully understand. Scripture also tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2). What breaks God’s heart should break mine as well including the plight of a vulnerable and lonely person. This means carving out time to reach out and be part of the solution to the person’s problem of isolation.
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