Dealing with loneliness

loneliness

In the prevailing view about unwanted loneliness, the phenomenon is presented as a mostly individual problem, although reference is made to some social factors that may influence its presence, for example, in the group of older people. However, frequently, the structural and systemic nature of the problem of unwanted loneliness and relational isolation in complex, fragmented and liquid societies (in which profound transformations are taking place) is poorly identified. Family and community relations (a space in which gender, generational, functional and cultural diversity was supposedly managed) are insufficiently analysed, in a context of labour, residential and economic polarization and precariousness, territorial segregation and environmental emergency.

When assessing the phenomenon of loneliness of the elderly, the devaluation, stigmatization and disempowerment of this social group makes that, usually, rather than focusing on the problem of unwanted loneliness in itself and as it is experienced by people, we focus on the consequences of that loneliness in other areas of the person’s life, such as their material subsistence, physical security or health.

Professional or voluntary interventions in relation to unwanted loneliness and relational isolation from the public sector or the third sector are presented as numerous and interesting, but also heterogeneous and immature. There is not sufficiently safe and shared evidence base on what works and what does not work.

The interventions that have acquired the greatest notoriety are, to a large extent, late and palliative interventions. For example, if an older person is accompanied by a volunteer, that does not necessarily modify in a real and sustainable way their situation of relational isolation or unwanted loneliness if it do not contribute (deliberately or unintentionally) to have that person build or rebuild significant primary relationships (weaker or stronger).

It is necessary to promote initiatives of technical, technological and social innovation that seek to explore the possibilities of a preventive and ecological intervention, understood as one that attempts to rise upstream in the problem and act on a larger scale and to a greater extent when the problem has not emerged and when the people who could present the problem have capacities, resources, assets and links that, if they are cared for and empowered, can become powerful protective factors against the risk of unwanted loneliness and relational isolation.

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