More Canadians than ever are living alone, and many feel rejected and unloved. Here are some ways to help.
More Canadians than ever are living alone. Single person households are not just on the rise here; the U.S., U.K., France, Japan, Sweden, Norway and Germany report similar trends. Recently released 2016 census data reveals that single person households (28 per cent) are the most common type of household in the country.
Is all this solo living creating a lonely planet? And, if so, what sort of effect is it having on our health?
Before we get to that though, it’s important to distinguish between solitude and loneliness. Are people living alone as a lifestyle choice or does it come as a result of circumstances?
Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Toronto’s York University and wrote Loneliness, Love and All That’s Between, has been studying the emotional condition for more than three decades.
Just about everyone – single, married, widowed, with children or without – has had temporary bouts of feeling disconnected. But “being alone does not always equate to loneliness,” says Rokach. “Solitude can be about doing things that are best done alone such as thinking, reading, planning, writing and creating.”
A lifestyle filled with activities that necessitate periods of solitude and that people find enjoyable can be healthy as long as it is balanced with having personal connections with others. Loneliness, on the other hand, is often fraught with negative feelings and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression and can lead to further health problems.
Lonely people report they feel rejected and unloved. They get depressed and often perceive themselves as unattractive. “If this goes on for a long time, they can become desperate and, then, hopeless,” says Rokach. “When they compare themselves to others, they feel inferior and worthless. Part of the problem with loneliness in our society is that it is stigmatized so people don’t go around telling others they feel lonely.”
Conversely, even those who live with someone can experience feelings of loneliness. Having personal connections with others is a basic human need. We all want to feel loved and cared for, especially by those we live with.
Seniors are especially prone to loneliness. Shrinking social circles due to retirement, divorce or the loss of a spouse or friends through death or estrangement, mobility issues, diminished hearing and eyesight, are some of the reasons seniors become socially isolated and, therefore, more at risk of loneliness.
Stats Canada reports that about one-third (33 per cent) of women were living alone in 2016, compared with only 17.5 per cent of men.” The good news is that the percentage of senior women living alone is down since 2001 when 38 per cent of women lived alone.
Relying on a compilation of research that has been going on for several decades, Rokach notes the link between loneliness and adverse health effects. “We have found that loneliness can predict morbidity, illnesses and mortality.” He points out that lonely people are more prone to hypertension, and they complain of sleep disturbances. More worrying, he also found that for older people, loneliness can hasten dementia.