Loneliness stealthily stalking many

It is ironical that despite having more ways to connect than ever, many people are lonely — they seem socially connected, yet socially isolated

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

Tom Maleya, 36 lives alone. It has been so for the last two years since he broke up with his girlfriend and his only brother travelled abroad to study.

“I am at the age now where all my friends are either getting married or having children. My parents live in Busia, our rural home and the rest of my relatives are several hundreds of kilometers away,” he says.

A DJ attached to two known night clubs in the Nairobi CBD, Maleya says even with his celebrity status, he has never felt so alone. He got lost in his job and it wasn’t long before he realised that his long time friends had moved on with their lives. Also, owing to the nature of his job, their schedules were always on collision, they worked during the day while he worked at night.

He says his moments on the deck are bliss, but they do not last. As soon as he lives the club, he quickly starts feeling isolated because there is nobody to talk with about last night’s events.

“My job makes it impossible to maintain relationships and the girls either want to date me because of the money or fame. I’m only left with two choices, either to go out alone or just stay in the house,” he says.

Any interaction with his friends and family seems to be permanently stuck on social media and occasional phone calls.

Loneliness includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. And scientists are exploring the damage chronic loneliness does to the body, and are likening it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, obesity, and it increases the likelihood of an early death by 26 per cent.

It is a sneaky monster that can overwhelm you at 3am while in the comfort of your house, a sneering voice in your ear during that office meeting, the lit party next door, the phone on your desk that never rings, or the screen that reflects other people’s happiness.

Even the 20 and 30-year-olds who the world expect to be having the best years of their social lives are not spared either as confirms 24-year-old Laura Njeri, a customer care representative with a leading mobile service provider.

“Of late, there is something about being in your 20s that invites these moments of loneliness. Peeking at my friend’s social media pages gives me an impression that they are having a blast with their lives, yet here I am barely surviving,” she quips

It turns out, loneliness, also known as social isolation, is slowly turning out to be a 21st century epidemic. With digital connection increasingly replacing face-to-face human interaction, loneliness is spreading across the globe like a deadly fire.

In the developed nations, the issue has been identified as a growing social problem. So much so that in January this year, the UK government appointed a minister for loneliness, Tracey Crouch.

The appointment came after a government report on social isolation revealed over nine million adults, almost a fifth of the population, are often or always lonely. This is according to a report on Combating Loneliness in UK.

Susan Keter, a mental health expert describes loneliness as a feeling of sadness that comes from lacking friends or company. She says loneliness happens even when you are surrounded by people.

“Many people get into relationships that are shallow or superficial. Those relationships lack depth or genuine bonding,” she offers.

Dwindling interactions

Human beings are social beings. It is no wonder people are struggling to fit in, and the problem is not going away.

Dr Geoffrey Wango, a counselling psychologist from the University of Nairobi says it is ironical that despite having more ways to connect than ever, more people are facing involuntary social isolation.

Various studies have given evidence that link loneliness to conditions such as depression, disrupted sleep patterns, dementia and altered immune system. Others have found that isolation increased the risk of heart disease and stroke by a third.

Wango attributes these phenomenon to dwindling meaningful human connections or circumstances such as bereavement, change in job, change in lifestyle, emigration, ageing among others.

“People are watching movies on their laptops instead of going to the cinema, they do their banking online, they see each other on Instagram, like and wave at each other on Facebook, retweet each other’s comments, but they don’t make an effort of connecting at a personal level.

You see, being connected electronically isn’t the same as in person. And when they do, they will spend the entire time on their phones,” Wango retorts. Yet, according to Wango, admitting that one is lonely, especially for celebrities who want to maintain an image of a perfect social life can be a challenge.

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