Some of you old-timers might remember the hit song from the 1960’s, “Only the Lonely,” sung by Roy Orbison. At the time it came out, I doubt that anyone would have foreseen that it would capture a condition that would become a serious problem in the U.S. By 2019, however, loneliness studies have become the hottest trend in sociology.
A 2018 survey conducted by Cigna found that nearly 1/2 of Americans report “sometimes or always” feeling lonely. Young adults, ages 18 to 22, are the loneliest age group of all. Loneliness has been linked to eating disorders, elevated stress and heart and immunity problems.
You might recall that in 2003, an intense heat wave struck Europe, which caused the death of 35,000 people, most of whom were seniors living alone without air conditioning. Of that total, 14,000 deaths took place in France. Poverty did not account for the deaths, but loneliness did
In Japan, about 4,000 elderly people die every year without being discovered until the smell of their bodies draws the attention of neighbors. They have firms which have made a business of cleaning out the apartments of old people who die alone.
All of this is documented in a book by Mary Eberstadt entitled Primal Screams, summarized in a recent article written by Barbara Kay in the National Post. Eberstadt points out that the dying of the elderly in a state of loneliness is a phenomenon in the richest countries, not the poor ones. She believes that the sexual revolution created what she calls the “Great Scattering,” the result of the breakdown of the family as the key component of our culture. The sexual revolution brought sex without responsibility, sex without children, promiscuity, no-fault divorce, contraception, abortion and other ills, all of which contributed to increased alienation and isolation. Technology has of course added to the intensity and frequency of loneliness.
The emphasis on privacy as a fundamental right has contributed greatly to the spread of loneliness in the United States. It has been used to justify the separation and killing of children by their own mothers, sending the message that privacy is even more important than life.
I remember when a couple who lived next to us and were wonderful neighbors moved out and were replaced by a very unhappy mother and her equally unhappy adult daughter. They had no interest in having any interaction with those who lived around them. We found out that they had researched whether they could legally put a privacy fence around their front yard.
We will all be seeing more news and commentaries on increased loneliness. We can all pray that the spread of loneliness will help us reflect objectively on the consequences of behaviors that have become common and maybe even popular in recent decades.