The Loneliness Epidemic
“For me loneliness is a universe of black in a small little space in my head and heart.”
Anonymous contributor to the Irish Times, Sept. 11, 2015
Young adults, including university students, are facing an epidemic of loneliness. In a 2019 survey of more than 50,000 Australians, 30% of 18-24-year old’s report “frequently” or “always” feeling lonely. Only 32% report “never” or “rarely” feeling lonely.
The consequences of loneliness are serious. As summarised in an ABC report.
Higher levels of loneliness are associated with higher levels of social interaction anxiety, less social interaction, poorer psychological wellbeing and poorer quality of life, the Australian Loneliness Report found.
Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent, research has found.
Physical symptoms of loneliness can include lack of energy, sleep problems, diet problems, headaches, illness, aches and pains and worsening of medical conditions, according to Lifeline.
There are also links between loneliness and poor mental health, including depression, lower levels of self-worth, life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing, according to Relationships Australia.
Loneliness can also lead to substance abuse or negative feelings — such as hopelessness and thoughts of suicide, according to Lifeline.
How Do I Talk About Loneliness?
“I've never thought about song writing as a weapon. I've only thought about it as a way to help me get through love and loss and sadness and loneliness and growing up”. Taylor Swift
Although it is a common, shared experience, loneliness is rarely a topic we talk about – even in church. We may mention it when applying the gospel in our sermons, discuss it in our Bible study groups and write about it in our blogs. But sometimes a direct approach may not be best.
Tim Evans, Power to Change missionary, has led a project developing the “Alone” short film. The film is about that common feeling of isolation and loneliness. And it asks, “What if, despite our solitary circumstances, we weren't alone? What if there was someone who cared?”
As this 6-minute film raises the question about loneliness. It allows a conversation to be started. The indirect approach means, by showing it on your mobile, it is suitable for personal evangelism or one-to-one discipleship. As you sip a latte in the café or share a toasted cheese sandwich over the kitchen counter, asking them to watch the short film and inviting them to answer a couple of questions happens pretty easily.
And you can use it in a church service. Show the film through the data projector and then have the discussion questions on the screen. This will create a sense of need that can be answered through a sermon.
The sense of loneliness is so common that, if you look to the person sitting on your left, and then look at the person sitting on your right, you can be sure that if you rarely feel lonely then one of them often feels lonely and the other regularly feels lonely. Let’s not miss the opportunity to apply the gospel to their world.
“But the battles against loneliness that I fought when I was 16 are very different from those I fought when I was 27, and those are very different from the ones I fight at 44” - Tom Hanks