Fresh reports are linking the reduction in social connections to affect wellbeing. But is isolation, loneliness, solitude the same thing?
As we all know, humans are social animals and so the ways we connect, not only intellectually, but emotionally and stimulation-wise – is crucial to our physical and emotional “health.” Activities such as eating together are essential to creating a social relationship and forming emotional bonds. This social connectedness is the key to understanding loneliness.
The Sainsbury’s Living Well index recently identified a reduction in eating with others as a significant factor of a decline in proper wellbeing, especially among individuals born in the time of increased birth-rate. This reports proposed that this is linked to the breakdown of relationships in later life; middle-aged people tend to score high in loneliness measures, too, particularly when they have experienced divorce and social isolation.
Additionally, there is another group that shows a substantial decline in total wellbeing: the child-free generation X. The factors included reduced sleep, fewer secure social networks, financial pressures, and worries for the future.
The Living Well report, which uses data accrued after six months, and is the result of connections between Oxford Economics and National Centre for Social Research, confirms a general and clear picture of the British society that has been emerging in recent years, one of increasing social disconnect and loneliness, and another of work stress and excess screen time, and of many individuals experiencing a significant crisis in mental health.
This report also raised a lot of questions into how we measure and respond to data around concepts such as “wellbeing,” community, and loneliness. And how we talk about socialization.
The compelling headlines from this report focus on sociability, loneliness and declining community: “Nearly half of Britons socialize with family and friends only once a month or less,” which was a common phrase among many media outlets, including the Guardian. This also featured a finding which revealed that “nearly one in 10 (9.1%) participants said they never met friends, family members or co-worker’s socially”.
This is more evidence, says Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s retail and operations director, that “there has been a decline of the sense of community the nation feels like a whole.”
Considering the social breakdown caused by Brexit and the eagle-eye focus on loneliness and mental health we have seen across the media in recent months, this seems like a logical conclusion.
Sociability is not the opposite of loneliness. It is possible for all to be lonely in a crowd. One of the problems in how isolation is often used is the sense that a lonely person as being socially isolated when there is so much more to consider.
The relationships that give us meaning, and a sense of wellbeing will vary. It is entirely possible for people – especially shy, young people – to find the community they need on social media, provided it connects to real-life experience rather than replacing it.
William Kellogg is a veteran writer who’s covered the subject of the intersection of technology, health and mental wellness for nearly two decades.