Recently, the Prime Minister of England announced a new cabinet level position: Minister of Loneliness. When announcing the appointment, Prime Minister Theresa May called loneliness a “sad reality of modern life.” The campaign is being led by Tracey Crouch, undersecretary of sports and civil society in the culture ministry. They have started to work on an “England-wide strategy to tackle loneliness.” England is a country of 60 million people, and more than nine million residents say they often, or always feel lonely.
In the United States, the former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has been bringing attention to the data that “are telling us that loneliness kills.” A report published in 2013 found that loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which can then lead to increased risk for heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and suicide attempts.
“Loneliness is the state of feeling sad or dejected as a result of lack of companionship or being separated from others,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. There are multiple factors that can cause people to feel lonely. Social interactions are difficult for some and our busy society makes it difficult for some to form relationships and interact with others.
At the mesothelioma center, we are too familiar with loneliness. It is strongly suggested that you have someone with you to support you through your journey. A friend, relative, someone who can support you along the way. A few years ago at an orientation meeting for new mesothelioma patients, a quiet man sat among patients and families. He introduced himself and said he was alone through his journey. His few words left a lasting impression on many of us. Not only was he fighting a rare, aggressive cancer, he was doing it alone.
There is no doubt some people prefer solitude and have limited social interactions and relationships by choice. It is also true that you can feel lonely in a relationship or with a crowd of people that you know. The important thing is that we all recognize social connections are a fundamental human need.
We need each other. In the words of the song, ”Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can.”