Fixing America's Loneliness Problem
> 7/3/2006 2:17:26 PM

Anyone who follows mental health news on the web has probably seen this story bubbling up over the past two weeks. In a joint report put together by researchers at Duke and The University of Arizona that appeared in The American Sociological Review, the teams found that while in 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, in 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.

This Sunday, in the Week in Review, the New York Times picked up the story. Tying this new research into a line of thought that includes Harvard professor David Putnam's landmark sociological text, Bowling Alone, the Times paints a rich picture of loneliness in America.

The implication of what lead researcher, Duke sociologist, Lynn Smith-Lovin has to say in the report is clear. We are, as a nation, perhaps as lonely as we've ever been. In this day and age of interconnectedness, the number of people that we feel comfortable confiding our innermost troubles to is actually in decline. Those quoted by the Times blame this on the usual suspects: working more hours, commuting longer distances and a desire to spend downtime with family rather than cultivating strong, new relationships (the latter not a bad thing, just a reorganization of priorities that may have put us in our current situation).

The dangers of this loneliness are clear for a species such as humans that relies so heavily on others for ideal productivity. Our very happiness and livelihoods may very often be at stake. Stress, anxiety and depression can all flow very easily from increased and prolonged loneliness. Even those who have one or possibly two confidants can be vulnerable, especially as they age, because the loss of one or both of these people can prove a fatal blow.

Some see hope in the very technologies that have proven problematic. Email, cell phones, chat groups and such have given us increased opportunity for connection to one another. Convincing folks to take up the tools is another story though. As Dr. Putnam remarks in the Times' coverage, the number of friends we have is a strong indicator of how long we'll live. And while most strong friendships are cultivated in face-to-face interaction, our technologies offer us the ability to maintain ties when distance and reduced availability of time have forced a wedge between acquaintances.

Trends will not change on their own and maintaining friendships may not be easy work. But as with anything worth having, we must be willing to work for our friendships. Take a moment to think about those who you may still hold dear, despite what time and distance may have done to your connection. Each of those people is only an email, or heck, even a text message away. By taking up the tools that our new age has given us, we don't have to live lives of loneliness. We have the option to stay in touch, and as broadband expands and computer processors increase in strength, we will be able to see one another face to face again very soon on web cams and broadband phone calls. Hold onto your family. Ask those close to you about the things that really matter. Don't be afraid to reach out. You might be surprised at how ready those around you, or indeed, on the other side of the continent, are to answer you call.


Hmmm... Couldn't it also be true that while our technology gives us the means to reach out to others, it puts up walls around us at the same time? I'm no Luddite; I don't drive a horse and buggy; I have, however, been lonely in my life, and the only cure for that is getting out and doing good old fashioned stuff, in the good old real world.
Posted by: anonymous 7/11/2006 9:43:37 AM

It's obvious that most people do not value relationships at all. They are so self-consumed that if they make any contact with anyone, it's by accident--at a coffee shop, wedding, party, etc. How then do you develop long-lasting relationships? Is it any wonder that so many people in this society are not only lonely, but depressed and hopeless? If there is a solution or answer to either of my questions, please reply. Thanks so much.
Posted by: Mohammad 10/8/2006 2:55:14 AM

20 years ago or so, When I was feeling lonely and disconnected (yet I was involved in a lot of different group activites) I watched the other people around me that seemed really connected to others and what I discovered was...They we not self centered. Now most of us in America don't view ourselves as self centered but we are! How many people actually care about you? And if you can't mention many or any for that matter why not? Because you most likey are concerned about how to make your own life better. (which isn't always a bad thing) But once I really understood that!!! and learned if I truely reach out and make others lives better, or easier in a way that can be sincere I have always been more blessed than they were. Not to mention, when I started caring about others I noticed that others started caring about me. AND IT IS RARELY THE SAME PERSON THAT I HELPED! So to do things for other people and truely not expecting anything in return HAS TURNED MY LIFE AROUND! If everybody lived this way we wouldn't have loney people. Try it it's catchy, kind of like a smile:)
Posted by: Becky 4/23/2007 9:01:47 AM

I've been quite lonely for most of my life. I've always felt like an outsider. I don't know why I'm such a repellant for people. I try to be the best friend I can be, but it just seems that I'll always be an outsider. I often times feel like I'm just not meant to have friends or associates. I've grown cold now, and I wish I could change the way I feel...but I can't. Am I wrong for being so bitter while still very young?
Posted by: 5/11/2007 9:47:53 AM

I moved back home after my last parent died, basically because it just was an emotional decision and as with most emotional, not well thought out decisions, this one proved quite awful. I was almost 52 at the time of the move, and it was virtually impossible to connect with anyone on a true friendship basis. Everyone my age had their life long connections established, most of the jobs I floated through all had much younger people working with me, I am not a particularly physically attractive person, so I didn't have that magnetism thing going for me. I tried church choir, classes, poetry groups, volunteering, nothing happened! And it's not like I am not a verbal, well educated and enthusiastic personality. So, I have basically given up, crawled into my house hole and do not interact with anyone at all 6 years later. No one notices. No one cares. Too bad cyber technology hasn't developed smell-o-screening, because without it I have a funny feeling they are going to find me 10 years from now as a nice, dry crispy corpse with long fingernails caught in the computer keyboard.
Posted by: bobobonobo 12/9/2007 2:04:45 AM

I was doing fine in life, I was a real happy girl till I caught my husband doing internet porn, lying to me and trying to strike up an affair with his secretary, it led to divorce. I loved him so much and treated him so well, I brought home a great salary, I am in the best physical shape - there's nothing more I could have done. Now, my family members are all dying off, I have 1 left. I have no siblings or children. I am a good friend to people but have never been lucky enough to find good friends that don't just want something from me. I attend church regularily, but, I am so lonely. I feel like I will never meet a man who is sincere and real. I feel like there are no genuine people left, I met a man who said he loved me so much and was a christian as well only to find out he was lying to me about so many things right from the start. Ok, so he had issues and I got away from him, but it makes me wonder if I will ever find a good hearted man, and friends who will stand by me no matter what (who do not just want things from me). I am just so lonely for good people in my life.
Posted by: Karen 12/19/2007 7:25:57 AM

Karen I hope you see this. I would like to talk to you. My email is
Posted by: susie 12/23/2007 2:57:02 AM

I am a lonely, sad, and depressed gay black man. all the time. I pretend just to make it through the days. I just work and come home. I stay to myself because no one likes looking at me. I'm ugly. I get tattoo's just so I don't have to look at myself. I've been mugged several times. I don't have anyone in my life either. In a way I guess you can say that I hate myself. Who wouldn't? I am a failure in life, failed at going to church, and just a failure.
Posted by: The Lost One 1/20/2008 6:49:05 AM

sometime my loney life will stop, i know this.will i have end it sooner than gods plans.when i have had enough of the thought, what tomorrow will bring?
Posted by: kezza 3/4/2008 11:30:52 AM

I too am lonely and cry most every day I have gotten a dog as a companion and work at a very good job. I make contact with others but deep connections are just not there. It appears there are many of us that are desperately lonely so lets try and take heart in the fact that this is a common human condition and we are not alone in our loneliness. To all of you, right now you are in my thoughts and if I could I would reach out and hug every one of you I know it is a small thing but try to take comfort in it.
Posted by: frida 3/15/2008 8:57:52 AM

I have never wanted to admit this,not even to myself. But I am lonely. I have felt everyday of my life. Like I have always felt like an outsider like I just don't belong. Just today I was wondering why I was born. Not that I have any intentions of ending my life, I just sometimes wonder why be born just to feel like this?
Posted by: shawn 3/15/2008 8:21:52 AM

I'm a big geek. So one night I googled "loneliness" and this site popped up: I'm not saying that it will cure our loneliness, but it was really interesting to at least approach my issues from a slightly objective/academic so many who have commented, i feel the exact way and i've asked myself some of the same questions. but i agree with the first responder: sometimes it is better to just go out and do stuff in the real world, and not with the expectation that your good deeds will be a temporary cure-all either.hope someone finds the above link helpful in some way. (it's not my site btw!)
Posted by: kkm 3/27/2008 2:55:10 AM

I'm sort of glad i see that other people are experiencing this like i am but, can't help to feel sorry for them because their in the same situation i am right now. i have a girlfriend but, most of our relationship is a lie and i can't go to her for advice or just a talk about thats what i am feeling, disconnected because i don't have any real friends or some one that will just always be there to talk, hang out, share the same interests, and so i leave you people with this thought... Why if we are lonely can't simply seek each other and meet one another so it would stop.Just by us discussing how we feel in this site shows that we have something in common and is something we could share and help each other out because YOU and ME know what the source is. So I'm taking the first step to say that if you're lonely so am i and lets be friends and get to know one another.My name is Edwin and I'm 18 my email is and if ANYONE feels the same way or just wants to have a talk please do. god bless.
Posted by: Edwin 4/24/2008 9:32:34 AM

I am very sad about all that I have read tonight. I myself am not depressed or lonely although I have been previously when I was around 18. I am 24 years old an I choose not to be depressed or lonely anymore, I choose to see the positive in everything even when bleak there is aways something we can learn. I am researching anxiety for a person I love dearly and was upset by what I read today. A lot of you mentioned it is hard to find friends, true friends, but unfortunately it takes friends to make them. You need to be a friend first and yes you will find those that just use you but you will discover this sooner rather than later & true friends will stay. There is no harm in keeping friends via the internet either, at least there is connection there right? Better some connection than none.
Posted by: ellen 4/26/2008 8:57:22 AM

I have been lonely since my late 20's. You know when you a kid, everyone is your friend but, as we get older, we lose those friends to marriage ,death, or they just move away. I am very close to my siblings but they have their own famililes now and I never married. I know i might be over Analyzing my life but here goes.For one thing, I was shy growing up and,only now at age 42 have I gotten a grip on it. It has taken years of me being a manger/leader at work to have the confidence to approcach people.Because I was so shy, I didn't make a lot of friends as a kid and, i just was a homebody for the most part.I was very close to my brothers. Now, I am alone because for the most part, our society is not geared for us. It is geared for married people or young adults. The Marketers covet the 20 something adults so networks run TV shows for them. I am a very nice christian male but it would be nice to have a good friend. Also, I think being a college educated person cuts down on the people i find interesting. I don't have a problem with anyone but I find people with college degrees seem to stimulate me more. I think this is because my parents are college educated and they have brought me up in a certain way. I know people with no degrees can finde me bornig as I find them also. I look forward to death. Now, doesn't mean that I will kill myself but, that I too have given up. However, I know that GOD will wipe all tears.
Posted by: wavemotion 4/26/2008 9:04:28 AM

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