One of the most disturbing statements that individuals make about loneliness is the estimate of the number of lonely Americans (about 25% or 60 million Americans). It is, for all intents and purposes, an estimate and not based off of a nationally representative survey of Americans. And who are these 60 million American's anyway? Do they tend to be more male or female, one ethnicity more than another, younger or older, living in one state vs another? Do they have access to mental health services? Are they more likely to be single or married? We do not know cause the research has not been done. Everyone has been content to take this estimate as if it were fact without understanding exactly how rampant or how impactful loneliness truly is on American society. In fact, America is already behind the curve, national studies have already been done in France, Norway, and Australia. The results have been informative! I have been trying to lead an effort to get a nationally representative survey done to understand with greater certainty how widespread loneliness is and how it affects the lives of Americans, but so far no one has thought it important enough to fund.
Most of the research that Dr. Gupta references in his article has been said over and over again by a variety of press. The most vocal of these, is of course, the impact of loneliness on one's physical health. Just for the heck of it here is a list of similar articles:
- BBC - Loneliness is "major health issue"
- Forbes - Social Interaction Study Highlights Loneliness and Isolation as Heath Risks for Elders
- Science D aily - Loneliness, like chronic stress, taxes the immune system, researchers find
- NY Daily News - How loneliness hurts your immune system — and 7 fast ways to feel more connected
- BBC - Does being lonely make you ill
- Slate - Loneliness is deadly
- Time - Social Isolation, Not Just Feeling Lonely, May Shorten Lives
Certainly, this is important and readers need to know and understand this. But this information has been around since at least 2005, and further research has merely explored this topic further instead of asking other questions, such as what other aspects of a person's life does loneliness affect? How does feeling lonely play into affecting a person's overall quality of life: their ability to get and keep a job, their ability to have a stable marriage and family life, and their ability to get the kind of help they need to overcome their feelings of loneliness? Understanding the impact of loneliness on physical health is great but is very one-dimensional on an issue that seems to dominate the lives of individuals who are chronically lonely.
The other over-referenced information is the relationship between loneliness and social media. In all honesty, it would have been better if he had just referenced this video instead. It made a much more compelling and informative argument about the relationship between social media and loneliness.
Secondly is the #JustSayHello campaign. As one commenter noted, what happens after you say hello? I think this campaign insults the very people it is proclaiming to help. Dr. Gupta very clearly acknowledges that being lonely is often stigmatized with being a loser, but why is that? Because the underlying thought is that any one who is not a loser can very easily make friends, they can just go out and join a club, or alternatively perhaps, just say hello, and then the friends will start showing up. So, if you cannot do such simple things to get friendships, then clearly you must be a loser. That is the kind of prejudiced thinking that chronically lonely folks have had to deal with all their lives. It's like, "hey lonely people, have you thought about just saying hello?" Why no, that never occurred to them, why didn't they think of that before! Lonely people have been so rejected in the past, so abused that they have reached a point where they will not even bother risking reaching out anymore. Why should they? Everyone they reached out to in the past just hurt them. The campaign is like telling hungry children in poverty - #JustEatFood. At least the campaign did not suggest #JustSmile which also seems to reduce loneliness and ostracism as well.
If you really want to "Fight Loneliness," you are going to have to do something more comprehensive, you are going to have to really understand who the lonely people are in American society, and then you are going to have to develop some deliberate programs around helping them. #JustSayHello appears to be a nice gimmick at face value, but really, does nothing except insult the people they are trying to help.