Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley

Are you lonely 1?


by Jenny Schwyeer

There are more ways than ever before to stay connected to others:  smartphones (with text messaging) email, and Facebook is ubiquitous. For those who prefer live encounters over electronic ones, even the smallest of towns have civic, activity-based and social clubs and churches filled with presumably friendly people. Most of us go to jobs where we’re around people all day long. Yet, in spite of the myriad of social connections available to us in 2017, loneliness of late is being described as an epidemic, according to recently published statistics.

Single person households

A recent article in The Globe and Mail on results of the 2016 Census highlighted an arresting statistic. Households consisting of just one individual make up the biggest demographic in household types (28 percent), ahead of the next two categories (couples with children and couples without children) for the first time. This is prompting experts to ask why.

Does living alone preclude a person to loneliness? Not necessarily, according to Barbara Mitchell, a professor of sociology and gerontology at Simon Fraser University. “Often, it depends on whether a person is living alone by choice rather than because of negative or unexpected circumstances, such as a divorce or the death of a spouse”, she said. Neither does living with a spouse, children or friends mean that a person is immune from loneliness.

Contributing factors

Other newly released Census data, points to different contributing factors.

• A growing divorce rate.

• Seniors who have lost their spouse or partner and now live alone further into their golden years (due to improved healthcare).

• Women who are more financially independent today, and so are making a conscious choice to forgo marriage or to live alone rather than share space with a roommate.

When a 2011 Vancouver Foundation Study asked what they felt was Vancouver’s most pressing problem, respondents cited not crime, homelessness or poverty, but loneliness and social isolation. It is estimated that approximately one quarter of Canadians would describe themselves as “feeling lonely most or all of the time.” Additionally, loneliness affects all ethnicities and nearly every age demographic, from teenagers to seniors. It also appears to affect urban and rural residents in equal numbers. This, in a bustling city like Vancouver where there is no shortage of people, entertainment, recreation and cultural activities.

Social Isolation

As loneliness takes hold in a person’s life, it paradoxically may lead to social isolation and reclusiveness. One middle-aged churchgoer who lives alone shared, “church seems to be mostly filled with couples and young families. Oh they are friendly – even caring – but it makes me feel even more alone as I know they can have no clue about the lonely life I live. Plus the church’s teaching and programs don’t seem to address my everyday life.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Utah, presented meta studies at a meeting of the American Psychological Association this month. The first, which involved 148 studies representing more 300,000 participants, found that greater social connection was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of dying early. Chronic loneliness has recently also been equated with the same health consequences as obesity, alcoholism and smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

Correlation between loneliness and depression

There is a strong correlation between loneliness and depression. Does the depression cause the loneliness or vice-versa? Loneliness is being identified by health authorities as a ‘health crisis’. Along with being linked to clinical depression it has also been linked conditions such as heart disease and premature death.

Those who work with seniors are concerned about loneliness. Elim Village serves seniors, with hundreds of residential units. Their campuses are designed to help create community. “We know that important though our housing options and quality is, we know a more important element for our residents is connection, ”says Ron Pike, Executive Director.  They have Chaplains who watch for reclusiveness in Elim Village residents.

The Light will be addressing loneliness in the coming months. Next month we will look at Loneliness and  Faith. Does a relationship with God make a difference? If so, how?

Leave a Comment