Article 43


Thursday, October 16, 2008


No Friend to Turn to

By H Stevens
Chicago Tribune
October 14, 2008

Maybe you and your friends have stopped talking politics.

Then again, maybe you’ve stopped talking altogether.

"Loneliness,” a new book by University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo and science writer William Patrick, sounds a wake-up call for those of us walking around in a state of isolation - and we are plenty. Roughly 60 million Americans, according to the book, feel lonely to the point of unhappiness at any given moment.

That’s about 20 percent of us.

Part of our problem, according to Cacioppo’s book, is an alarming trend in American communities: We’ve stopped confiding in each other.

In 1985, the General Social Survey talked to nearly 1,500 adults about their network of confidants. In 2004, sociologists repeated the same survey and found Americans had one third fewer confidants - defined as people with whom you “discuss important matters.” A quarter of the respondents in 2004 said they had no one with whom they talk openly and intimately.

What about you? Are you swimming in confidants, or treading water on your own? We came up with a little quiz to help you decide.

If your answers leave you feeling a little lonely, it may be time to take action. Cacioppo and Patrick report that “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.”

“Loneliness is not only a sad event, it’s a threatening event,” Cacioppo said in a recent phone interview.

“Loneliness is a pain signal calling attention to an important need. It’s the same as hunger, thirst and pain.”

And although he stresses that the quality of your relationships is far more important than the quantity, ("A few close friends and confidants make a big difference"), it helps to branch out beyond your immediate family.

Answer these questions:

- Do you regularly discuss your health, job, current events or other “important matters” with someone outside your family?

- Who could you call on to pick up your child(ren) from school or day care?

- Do you belong to a community organization?

- How many of your neighbors do you know?

- Do you play on a sports team?

- Do you have a regular hangout (coffee shop, diner, bookstore)?

- How many of your online friends do you socialize with face-to-face?

- Who feeds your pet/collects your mail/waters your plants when you leave town?

- Who would you call if your car broke down?

- What are you doing next Saturday?

If you continually answered “my spouse” to the “who would you turn to"-type questions, consider this: “Ties outside the family are the most likely to connect respondents to people from different parts of society,” according to the most recent issue of Contexts, a magazine published by the American Sociological Association.

“Family members tend to be similar in class, religion and race. Therefore, if the majority of a person’s connections are through family, their social world is limited.”

This may not seem like such a bad thing, but the Contexts report (which centered on the same confidant study mentioned in “Loneliness") makes this point: “The tangible, material help we get from others leads to longer, healthier lives.”

“People stranded on rooftops after Hurricane Katrina perhaps didn’t know anyone with a car and didn’t have a close friend they could stay with for a few days,” it says.

So it behooves us to make some time for relationships.

“We are fundamentally a social species,” notes Cacioppo, who says he was surprised to learn how profoundly we are affected by our connectedness.

“It affects our ability to think, to self-regulate, our sense of self-worth. Exactly how central our social existence is to us as human beings, that was a surprise. That changed how I started to think about human nature.”



BETTER TOGETHER WEBSITE, an initiative by Harvard University to rebuild civic trust among Americans and their communities, offers “150 Things You Can Do to Build Social Capital.” In other words, make some friends. From the list:

- Surprise a new neighbor by making a favorite dinner - and include the recipe.

- Organize or participate in a sports league.

- Audition for community theater or volunteer to usher.

- Volunteer in your child’s classroom or chaperone a field trip.

- Participate in a political campaign.

- Help coach Little League or other youth sports - even if you don’t have a kid playing.

- Start a lunch gathering or discussion group with co-workers.

- Start or join a carpool.

- Plant tree seedlings along your street with neighbors and rotate care for them.

- See if your neighbor needs anything when you run to the store.



Loneliness Is Killing Us We Must Start Treating It Like One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases
A report says loneliness is more deadly than obesity ֖ the challenge now is to help lonely people connect.

By Pilippa Perry
The Guardian
February 17, 2014

That loneliness is a health issue would not have been a surprise to Mother Teresa who once said: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.”

But now doctors have quantified the effects of the loneliness disease, warning that lonely people are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer feelings of isolation. Being lonely it seems, is a lot more worrying for your health than obesity.

In a report called Rewarding Social Connections Promote Successful Ageing that Professor John Cacioppo presented in Chicago at the weekend, the effect of satisfying relationships ON THE ELDERLY was measured.

Cacioppo’s team found that friendships helped older people develop their resilience and ability to bounce back after adversity, as well as an ability to gain strength from stress rather than be diminished by it.

Not surprisingly, there is no corresponding good news for those less well connected to other people. Loneliness has dramatic consequences on health. Feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, lower immunity, increase depression, lower overall subjective wellbeing and increase the stress hormone cortisol (at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually wears your body down).

Older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness by staying in touch with former colleagues, taking part in family gatherings and sharing good times with family and friends, says Cacioppo. Moving away from an established community to retire to a seaside idyll could often be a mistake, but such good common sense probably doesn’t go far enough.

The Lonely Society, a 2010 report commissioned by The Mental Health Foundation, cited a link between our “individualistic society” and the increase in COMMON MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS in the last 50 years.

It also drew on research showing that mental health problems occur more frequently in unequal societies where vulnerable people are often left behind. By squandering “social capital” in the individualistic pursuit of greater wealth, or treating social networks as incidental, are we neglecting a part of life that makes us happy and keeps us healthy for longer?

This report also quotes research that suggests lonely people often share certain characteristics: these include more of a history of loss or trauma and a childhood spent with negative, critical and harsh parenting.

Loneliness is often the core feeling that gives rise to emotions of anger, sadness, depression, worthlessness, resentment, emptiness, vulnerability and pessimism. Lonely people frequently feel that they are disliked, are often self-obsessed and lack empathy with others. They fear rejection and keep themselves at a distance, which feeds the loneliness.

People who are lonely often think that everyone else is doing OK while they are not. They think they are the only ones carrying a burden. I have had clients talk about putting their “game face” on rather than sharing truthfully about themselves. And it can be difficult to know when it is appropriate to make the move from the former to the latter.

So in an ageing society with more and more people living on their own, what is the solution? I believe that it is never too late to change, and that psychotherapy can help people to heal the wounds from their past and establish new patterns of relating to others. But a dependency on this specialist relationship may also develop, with the therapist becoming a substitute for developing confidants outside the consulting room.

I am on the advisory board of TALK FOR HEALTH COMPANY Ltd (T4H) which is a social enterprise set up by psychotherapist Nicky Forsythe. It trains people in the loneliness-stopping skills of authentic sharing and empathic listening. After a short initial training, the groups set up long-term peer support systems that are proven to improve wellbeing significantly. The ultimate aim of T4H is to create networks of confidants where anyone can find a place to connect at a deeper level.

It seems that at least some GPs and health managers do realise that combating loneliness is key to maintaining good health. A forward-looking scheme funded by the NHS in Islington will this year fund 12 Talk for Health programmes, offering 180 free places to Islington residents for adults at any stage in life.

People without access to such a programme could also consider joining a 12-step group such as Emotions Anonymous or Depression Anonymous, where they will be able to put aside their “game faces” and share truthfully about themselves on a deeper level. Unlike individual psychotherapy, the connections made in such groups can be integrated into the participants’ lives beyond the group.

Such schemes can help people of any age to develop self-acceptance, making it easier for them to relate to others and connect on such a level that loneliness, if not eradicated, at least becomes less of a threat to health.


Posted by Elvis on 10/16/08 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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