Loneliness in society: possible reasons and their consequences

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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Many people in Germany are alone. Young people between the ages of 19 and 22 are particularly affected. This was the result of a study recently published by Bertelsmann. According to the study, young women suffer from loneliness more often than men. Loneliness is also often a problem for the divorced, the unemployed and people with low levels of education.

Maike Luhmann, professor of psychology and loneliness researcher at Ruhr University Bochum, and Matthias Reinhard, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, explain what the causes of loneliness are, how loneliness makes people sick and what affects those affected and us as a society , we can do about it. it Clinic of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Loneliness can change political attitudes

One thing first: not everyone who is alone is alone. According to Maike Luhmann, professor of psychology and loneliness researcher at Ruhr University in Bochum, the decisive factor for loneliness is “a negative and really painful feeling” that occurs when we would like to have more relationships and more contacts than we currently have. And this lasts for many months or years.

Loneliness changes us. We withdraw and react more negatively to other people, says Luhmann. Loneliness can also influence our political attitudes.

“We know, for example, that lonely people tend to subscribe to more extreme political positions or simply be less politically active.” These are threats to our democracy, says the psychologist.

How loneliness makes you sick – physically and mentally

But loneliness cannot only have a negative impact on democracy. It also causes high economic costs, that is, costs for society as a whole. Mainly healthcare costs.

Numerous psychological illnesses are associated with loneliness, says Luhmann. For example, depression, anxiety disorders or addictions. “But this also applies to physical illnesses. Lonely people, for example, move less, sleep worse and eat worse”, says the psychologist. And this leads to a whole series of secondary diseases. “These are cardiovascular diseases, but also things like dementia, diabetes and even premature mortality have been linked to loneliness,” explains Luhmann.

There are no clear causes of loneliness in young people

It remains unclear to experts like Luhmann why young people between the ages of 19 and 22 feel particularly lonely, as the current survey found. The pandemic with its contact restrictions has especially affected young people, says the psychologist. “But even in 2024 we will still see that there are more young people who are lonely than before the pandemic. So there must be other reasons as well. I suspect we will have to look again at the role that social media actually plays in everyday life.”

His colleague Matthias Reinhard, a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Ludwig Maximilians University Hospital in Munich, also believes that social media is something that promotes loneliness, especially among young people. On the surface, they give the feeling that you are not alone on the networks, but in reality you are sitting alone in front of the screen, without a real counterpart.

Loneliness – what society can do about it

What helps against loneliness? Every individual can try to give social relationships a higher priority in life again and consciously set aside time for family and friends, says the Bochum psychologist. According to Luhmann, this alone is not enough. “We also need volunteers, for example, who can approach lonely people and make them offers,” she says.

And politics is also called. On the one hand, municipalities and cities are creating more places where people can meet without prejudice, even without paying anything. The psychologist complains that there are not enough vacancies, especially for young people. Another goal should be to lift more people out of poverty and unemployment – factors that, according to Luhmann, can promote loneliness.

Matthias Reinhard, who researches loneliness at LMU, believes it is important “that we start talking about loneliness, that it is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something that many people know about and that many people suffer from”. According to the psychiatrist, if you talk about loneliness, a bond can emerge and you can overcome loneliness together.

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