Support Groups Find Therapist Events Calendar Online Store

ADAVICSocial SupportInformationResourcesProfessional HelpOnline Store

To Anyone (loneliness and isolation)

This page created 28 November 2011
By Mary Pagett - ADAVIC Volunteer

One old man, pen in hand
Writing staggered; looking haggard.
Doesn’t smile all the while
He’s at home. He’s all alone.
Morning dawns. Old man yawns.
Tired today, so he just lies
In his bed, overwrought;
Thinking thoughts of someone,
Anyone who’ll share; who’ll care;
Who’ll love.
One old man, pen in hand
Writes his name, his heart in pain,
To someone, anyone
Who’ll read the thoughts of one old man.

Loneliness and isolation are often mutually inclusive, but not simply because they seem to be related words. Both phenomena are often identified with specific social groups in our society; for example, with the disabled, the poor, the ageing or elderly or migrants. Anyone who has had their social network strongly disrupted, or has a major change to their lifestyle, are susceptible to isolation and loneliness. Whether it's through retirement from employment or relocation, loneliness can creep up on us from a lack of social nourishment. Loneliness and isolation can exist in us even when we have the physical company of others.

Materialistic, democratic societies can cultivate loneliness by their very nature. Improved communication technologies designed to foster a ‘virtual self’ means that people can be very connected, yet feel very isolated and spiritually lonely.  Australian Bureau of Statistics research indicates that loneliness and isolation can affect different sections of the community in various life circumstances. For example, research on people between the ages of 25-44 found that men living alone and lone fathers are at the greatest risk of experiencing loneliness, yet this age group represents that which is supposedly competently ‘in tune’ with the ‘global connectedness’ of an online community.

Single mothers also experience high levels of ‘emotional loneliness’, regardless of the world being ‘at their fingertips’ or help being ‘just a click away’. This technology is not a substitute for a meaningful relationship and family structure. Individual mental well-being is also linked to living alone, or more significantly linked to living without something that functions to complete a structure. Adapting to living alone, especially late in life, can be stressful; indeed it may feel like a personal regression not in keeping with one’s state of mind or desires.

In 2007, lonely people aged 16-64 years were more likely than people living with others to have had at least one mental disorder in the past 12 months. If loneliness can be defined by a detachment of one’s ‘virtual’ self or ego from their inner self, then loneliness might be defined as an internal split or schism from one’s true self. Loneliness then, in this sense, might be  defined as a mental or spiritual disconnectedness more readily than it can be construed as a purely physical separation from a significant other.

Company is not a substitute for meaningful connection. Many of us have felt completely alone even in the company of family and friends. The keeping of company cannot replicate the desired experiences of a lonely person. Loneliness has a cause, a root that substitution or replacement cannot necessarily fix. Fulfillment of experience conquers loneliness. Fulfillment is achieved by a commitment of oneself to another (thing, person or concept) as much as it is by reciprocity. The removal of the significant other or an estrangement from one’s conception of themselves can be wrenching. Arbitrary replacement is inadequate compensation for addressing the root causes of the loneliness and may increase the negative emotions caused by the separation because it emphasizes that loss even more so.

From personal experience, the loss of someone significant creates untold pain, loneliness and isolation. When my father passed away from this world, I had my young adult children and a vast network of colleagues and friends available for support. Nevertheless, I experienced a prolonged period of depression, stemming purely from my fathers absence, which made me feel alone with my profound loss. It was a long journey and a process of grieving that forced me – or rather allowed me – to reflect inwardly for answers to resolve my unspeakable feelings of solitary confinement. The passage of time allowed the strength of my loss to dissipate enough for me to be able to reflect conceptually upon it, and what I might subsequently do to better deal with it.

For some who have experienced loneliness and isolation through loss, speaking to a counsellor may help. Reaching out is often the most difficult thing to do when one is feeling emotionally drained or empty. Doing so through community centres or organisations that meet on a regular basis can help by allowing one to confront their feelings with outsiders who will be less judgmental in their specific roles. Involving others formally helps to build new opportunities by offering fresh perspectives as well as potentially new friendships.

Older members of the community have so much to offer society through the wisdom of their experiences. Involving oneself in volunteer work for the elderly, or something similar, will benefit not only the organisation one assists, but also the  volunteer. It could work towards establishing a new support network as well as making one feel useful and functional in a  significant way. Many organisations have schemes available that connect isolated or lonely people. One such scheme is the Red Cross Visitor’s Scheme. They match volunteers to visit and befriend a person who has invited contact and support (who may also feel isolated being in organizational care).

One might prefer to start volunteering through phone conversations. Organisations such as Wesley Mission are involved in setting up ‘phone friendship’ links where volunteers use phone calls to establish links with those in need by simply supporting them with conversation or specifically regarding their particular needs or the issues they currently face. Other organisations provide volunteers to transport isolated, disabled and frail people to appointments, shopping or excursions. The organisation will try to best match the volunteer with the person by some sort of interest table or by some basic psychological regard.

A while ago I got involved with the Red Cross Visitor’s Scheme, and began visiting an isolated person in care. For 12 months, I assisted her by doing shopping or cleaning and sprucing up her room, sometimes just painting her nails. Mostly, however, we talked about books we had read, the news of the day, as well as reminiscing or showing photos of our families. I got to know her family who welcomed someone outside of the family to be part of her life. I learned so much from Joyce, and we had many laughs, and shed some tears too.

Meaningful connection with others is a necessary pre-requisite for a healthy, emotional existence. In today’s morally tainted and complicated social realm, it can be easy to forget that the stranger on the street – while not uniquely significant to us – is still a representation of ourselves; as we are a stranger ourselves to others. Civil politeness, respect, generosity and warmth go a long way towards fostering a healthy local community spirit. Next time you are in a social situation, remember how effective goodwill can be in making others, and yourself, feel connected. A smile is worth all the spam emails in the world!

Some resources

self-funded organisation
. We welcome your contributions
donations, and memberships.

If you would like to sponsor ADAVIC
or help with fundraising, please
contact the ADAVIC office.

Sign up for our eNews letter: