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The Loneliness Epidemic

by | Tue, Dec 7 2021

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In recent times, many of us have felt more isolated than ever before. Public health orders and lockdowns have forced us to keep away from others for our own safety. Some people handle isolation better than others. But for those who don’t, feelings of loneliness and distress can be an overwhelming. 

A recent Australian study found that the pandemic has served to highlight an existing problem. Today, 40% of Australians have never felt lonelier. One in four people say they don’t have anyone to talk to. Many of us just feel too embarrassed to admit to others that we are lonely. 

Simon Smart is the Executive Director of ‘The Centre for Public Christianity’. He joined this 20Twenty conversation to share his thoughts and reflections on what is causing this widespread loneliness, not only in Australia but around the world. 

Simon recently wrote an article containing the suggestion by experts in the field, that

what we’re actually facing is a loneliness epidemic.

But is this an exaggeration or reality? 

Simon doesn’t think it’s an exaggeration. He says we hear over and over again that people report being lonely, more so than they were years ago. We have to factor in the pandemic and lockdowns as part of the picture. But there are other contributing factors too. What is it about contemporary life that’s contributing to this exacerbating of loneliness?  

“There is absolutely that sense of crushing loneliness we’ve all experienced at various times,” says Simon. “But there is also some science behind this. Loneliness really does reduce your lifespan. Studies have shown that loneliness can reduce your life expectancy by up to 15 years, and is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” 

The truth is you can feel lonely even in a crowd. Different people will require different things from relationships in order to not feel lonely.

Some are naturally gregarious and need lots of friends. Others might only need a few people around them, because it’s the quality of the connection that matters.   

Simon says there’s a sense of failure that is also attached to loneliness. “It becomes a question of what’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I been able to develop good friendships? What we should recognize is that

if you’re a lonely person, you’re not alone in that.”

 

Things in modern life like social media, don’t seem to fill the void.

“There’s something qualitatively different about the physical presence of another person, as opposed to being online,” says Simon.

“We can be connected in all sorts of ways and not feel any depth. We need to feel understood, and that involves things like body language and tone of voice.”

People long to be together, and that tells us something about what it means to be human. There are aspects of the constant online presence that are particular to loneliness, but it goes back further than that. The West has adopted a kind of emphasis on the individual and a definition of freedom that is all about unlimited choice.  

“I think ancient wisdom tells us there’s a lot of richness in life to be gained from turning outward to other people,” says Simon. “But looking to the interests of others is going to cost us something.” 

“Christian wisdom would say that the best life is found in service to others.” 

To listen to the rest of Simon’s fascinating discussion with Neil about loneliness, click below.

Reflect & Respond

  • Have you felt lonesome before? Do you recall how Jesus met you in your time of feeling lonely? How can you invite Him to do so again? Who can you reach out to in your community to be around people?
  • Do you know someone who may be alone this season? How can you bring God’s companionship and love to them?
  • How does God’s promise that He will never leave nor forsake you bring you comfort?

More About 20Twenty

Helping you make sense of culture, events and happenings through Biblical perspectives.

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Download Vision Christian Media app to listen on the go. You can also listen to the podcast online. Click here for your local station and times.

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