Loneliness has become a "plague," and "epidemic" that strikes young and old. But loneliness is not a universal human condition. It is a historically specific one.
Before 1800, the word loneliness was not really used in the English language. Where it was used, it meant the same as oneliness - the state of being one or single. Trees were lonely; roads were lonely. Before the 19th century, people did live alone, but they weren't lonely.
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When we consider this emotion a product of history, rather than an automatic biological response, we can find more nuanced solutions to loneliness.
Loneliness is not a single emotion. It contains emotional states such as anger, sadness, jealousy, resentment, grief, and hope. Structural loneliness caused by poverty, infirmity, disability and illness is different from existential loneliness where a person is yearning for others. This means that tailored interventions are vital.
Loneliness requires two thing:
In pre-modern society, religion gave meaning to all existence. God was always there. But modernity brought uncertainty. Scientific medicine questioned the certainty of the soul, urbanisation disrupted traditional communities, and existential philosophy searched for meaning without God. In this context, loneliness was invented and maintained by neoliberal policies.
Loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. because it has no single common cause, the prevention and treatment of this potentially damaging state of mind can vary dramatically.
For example, a lonely child who struggles to make friends at school has different needs than a lonely older adult whose spouse has recently died.
Most people consider loneliness a personal problem to be figured out by individuals.
However, a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health identified high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, disability, cognitive decline, and depression among the conditions affected by loneliness. What we have is a public health problem.
No emerging technology or drug exists on the horizon to cure loneliness.
Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind.
For example, a college freshman might feel lonely despite being surrounded by roommates and other peers.
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