“You can only feel it when you’ve got it.”
Exactly 2 weeks ago, the BBC aired an hour-long documentary called ‘The Age of Loneliness’, which revealed the struggles of people suffering from, you guessed it, loneliness. Those featured in the documentary opened up about their experience and described how they cope with this feeling.
The documentary, directed by Sue Bourne, shed light on the silent epidemic in an informative, thought-provoking and powerful manner. Bourne was inspired to make the film when Britain was deemed ‘the loneliness capital of Europe’ in 2014, in which, according to The Campaign to End Loneliness, more than a million people are affected.
Loneliness is all too common in British popular culture. We’ve seen it in John Lewis commercials, as described by Carolyn Hitt in this article: ‘Monty the Penguin yearning for a soul-mate or the man in the moon rescued from isolation with a gift-wrapped telescope.’ Loneliness is a recognised problem among the elderly but is certainly becoming an increasing problem which must be acknowledged more, especially as it affects a variety of people, regardless of age and occupation. Numerous events occur throughout one’s lifetime which lead to solitude, such as death, divorce and life change. The documentary introduces us to a very diverse group of individuals, from the 19-year old student Isobel to Olive the feisty centenarian, just to remind us that ‘it could be you, it could be me; there are millions of us out there’. And indeed there are.
It isn’t easy to listen to people talk about their loneliness, because we know it’s not easy to talk about it to begin with. It’s hard, actually. According to Kylie, the 30-year-old New Zealander: ‘It’s difficult to admit you’re lonely to other people, or to yourself.’ It’s such a personal condition that it’s seen as a taboo to discuss it openly. As Christian Guy of the Centre for Social Justice puts it: ‘There is something British about wanting to deal with problems yourself.’
It can affect us at any time in our lives. It’s important to note that one could be surrounded by so many people yet still feel lonely. Being alone isn’t synonymous with being lonely. Loneliness is just an invisible emptiness and it’s so hard to explain for that very reason.
It is far too common for people with loneliness to see themselves as burdens, fearing to confide in anyone. But as it’s becoming so common, it’s time to recognise that it is a serious issue that must be understood by everyone. Recent research even suggests that loneliness ‘can significantly increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer’. It can be a serious health threat. It can kill.
Programs such as ‘The Age of Loneliness’ are a vital step towards acknowledging the unseen problem and are, in other words, a 'valuable social service’. We need to become more considerate of others and their plights. We need those suffering from loneliness to be able to talk more openly about their feelings. Let’s keep in mind that a simple conversation or even a smile can help immensely. Of course, there are so many programs and apps to help tackle this problem but to put it simply, I feel like we should be more aware of the symptoms and more willing to support those who feel that way. There is no need to suffer silently any longer.
Please watch the documentary if you have time: