Loneliness is one of the most pressing social and health problems of the 21 st century, both in Australia and globally.
We often equate loneliness to social isolation, but we know that it is not only a feeling of being physically alone.
Many people say that they can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely.
Feelings of loneliness relate to the quality of our relationships, our sense of belonging to our social world, and the degree to which we feel that others truly understand us, and our experiences.
Spare a thought for those who experience loneliness every day.
People with chronic illness are often caught in a bind of poor health, and an inability to socialise and engage in others in their community, due to immobility or stigma.
Additionally, they are more likely to feel emotionally isolated - that is, feel that nobody really understands them, experience a loss of a sense of self, or feel trapped in an unpredictable body.
While the pandemic has provoked much awareness and ecognition that loneliness is a serious social problem that needs to be addressed, many of the solutions proposed have focused solely on teaching people strategies to better cope with their loneliness.
The onus is often on the individual to manage their distress.
Here at La Trobe, we've been studying how people with chronic conditions experience loneliness.
It turns out that loneliness is much more than a problem individuals can solve for themselves; it's an issue that requires a social or community-based solution.
As part of our research, in partnership with Universities of New South Wales and Sydney, we are interviewing people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, MS, endometriosis and chronic pain, about their experiences of loneliness, belonging and feeling socially connected.
These interviews are telling.
One person said to us: "I do find it hard to talk about loneliness... the minute that you don't say "I'm good" back to somebody, they don't know how to deal with it... I think there's a lot of shame around it."
If you have a chronic condition and experience loneliness, please contact me at K.Willis@latrobe.edu.au to register your interest or find out more about the study.
Because sharing your experiences and insights might help make the difference for someone else.
- Karen Willis is a Professor in Allied Health Research at La Trobe University