One of the ironies of modern life is that the technology-driven world is becoming more connected while the gulf between humans is widening, leading to breakdown of communication within families and communities. Even the occasional social get-togethers are reduced to events where people are glued to their own gadgets; solidarity outside but solitude inside. From a school-going child tormented by academic pressure to a senior citizen grappling with a sense of alienation, people across age groups are becoming islands of isolation. Loneliness is a sad reality of modern life. It makes no distinction between age groups, economic status, culture or nationality. The emergence of nuclear families, growing migration of the youth to cities in search of jobs and the struggles of everyday life amid increasing aspirations have all resulted in an epidemic of loneliness. It is as much a health concern as it is a sociological problem. The reality of the 21st century is that humans around the world are lonelier than they have ever been before. For the first time in the world, there is now a Minister for Loneliness in Britain. By creating this unique portfolio, the UK has shown the way to the world to address an issue that never gets the attention it deserves. A study has concluded that nine million British citizens often feel lonely and over 2 lakh elderly people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in a month while 58% of migrants in London described loneliness and isolation as their biggest challenge.
Britain is not alone in grappling with the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. With complex social structures and changing dynamics of family relationships, India too has a fair share of the woes triggered by loneliness. The World Health Organization reported last year that 4.5% of the total population suffered from depressive disorders, largely attributed to a sense of isolation. Mounting medical evidence suggests that lonely people are at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, depression and anxiety. Following the collapse of joint family system and community living and the changing demands of workplaces, living alone is becoming the new normal in India. There is a need to approach loneliness and social isolation as essentially a public health problem. Tackling loneliness is a generational challenge. In the absence of proper intervention, loneliness will inevitably take its toll on the entire healthcare system. Everyone has to come together–individuals, communities, civil society organisations, businesses, and governments–to work together to create a world that is less lonely and more connected. Britain has set an example for other countries to follow and ensure that our future is one of connection, kindness and community, not isolation, separation and loneliness.