A pill to cure loneliness?
Recently a proposal has come forth that a pill might be developed to deal with the symptoms of loneliness. As one of the researchers on the work suggested, the “goal is not to make people stop feeling lonely altogether, but to interfere with the ways loneliness affects the brain and body.”
I can understand the idea of wanting to tackle the physical affects of loneliness as they can be quite harmful. It can make us more susceptible to cognitive decline, cardiovascular problems, and cancer. These are topics worthy to address and find ways to handle.
I have my doubts about medications, though. That’s not to say I’m against medication at all. While I do take pills to handle my anxiety and depression, it’s because there is a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s something I cannot change.
Yet there are mechanisms available to handle loneliness. These include utilizing the EASE method. Focusing on social skills needed to develop connections seems far more appropriate in addressing loneliness. Also, in utilizing social skills there wouldn't be possible side effects which often come with medication.
There's no doubt loneliness has physical side effects. Yet it's possible the nature of the problem is more with a mental health issue that can come about because of prolonged periods of being alone. A pill to address loneliness may be missing the real issues, which relate more to mental health concerns. Such conditions are treatable through therapy, medications or a combination thereof. In conjunction with learning social skills needed to make connections, undesired effects of loneliness can be overcome.
I’m curious to see more research on the subject, but at this point seeking out a pill to “cure” the physical aspects of loneliness seems to be missing the underlying issues of the situation.
“Is it possible I’m unlikeable? Perhaps it’s my personality and behavior that causes no one to want to share my company.” That was a nagging thought during my times of loneliness. Yet I came to find out that wasn’t the case. What I was feeling was the stigma often associated with loneliness rather than the reality of the situation.
The reality was that I was having a hard time connecting with others. And that was because I didn’t know how to go about making connections.
Today it seems as though people are more willing to admit to a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety than they are that they are lonely. The judgment I had toward myself when I was lonely kept me from reaching out to others for fear of stigmatization. The fact that I couldn’t reach out to others for help out of a fear of judgment made me feel worse. I believed I should be able to get free of the feelings of loneliness I had.
This inability to free myself of loneliness goes back to feelings of self-sufficiency that many of us carry in Western culture. It’s based on an idea of pulling one’s self up by their boot straps and working things out on our own. This idea of self-sufficiency is that it's seen as weakness to need help. Indeed, as the late Professor John Cacioppo said in an article from a 2016 story from The New York Times: “The very word 'lonely' carries a negative connotation…signaling social weakness, or an inability to stand on one’s own.”
So what can we do about this stigma? As with most issues, it’s important that people who are suffering from this issue speak up. If we share that we are experiencing loneliness, it's easier for others to feel comfortable sharing their troubles. It’s one of the reasons I talk about this through my speaking and writing.
Also, bringing attention to the issue as a society is helpful. Directing funds to research and public programs can be of great help in showing individuals how to break free from the grips of loneliness. Education on methods by which one can find connections would go a long way to break down the stigma.
At the close of my talk on loneliness I say the same thing: “You’re not alone in feeling lonely.” It’s so important to remind others of that in the hopes that those few words can make a difference to break down stigma. It's a stigma that keeps so many from receiving the help they need to find connections.
“Just get out there.”
If you’re a depressed or lonely person, I’m sure you’ve heard these kinds of statements. It sounds simple enough. But for those in the depths of loneliness or suffering from mental illness, acting on such statements seems like an insurmountable challenge.
On the face of it, socializing with others sounds like a good suggestion. It can (and most often does) make us feel better to interact with others. If we are feeling down, socialization can help us take our minds off of whatever is bothering us at the time.
Yet, with the depressed person, it seems as though the feeling of escape from one’s problems doesn’t come with much relief afterward. When the conversation ends and both parties go their own way, thoughts of worthlessness and self-doubt can return.
A study by the University of Michigan revealed that people with depression don’t get as much long-term comfort from social interactions as those who aren’t depressed.
So, socialization is important! It’s part of who we are as human beings. And it’s something we should include in our lives for better mental health.
But if it’s so hard for depressed people to get together with others, how can one make it easier for one’s self?
What’s key to feeling comfortable with socialization and having it create joy in your life is receiving treatment. This can take many different forms including medication, therapy, or positive psychology techniques.
Treatment is critical when one is handling mental health issues. As one would seek physical therapy for back issues, mental health treatment can lead to improvements in mood. By taking medication and going to therapy, I’ve learned to learn to be more comfortable with social settings. It’s not easy in large group settings, but it has gotten better over the years.
Thanks to the time and work I’ve put in, I am now in a place where socialization is more meaningful and appreciated. And in that way, my times of socialization have helped me with the times that depression affected me. Those connections get me in tune with that part of me that needs to be around my peers and to feel accepted by part of a group. It’s a lot of effort but one that has helped me greatly in dealing with my depression.
I’ve always lived in cities or suburban areas. It’s not been intentional, but it's where the jobs are or my friends live.
I’ve lived in big cities since 2006 and enjoy the realm of opportunities. I’ve often thought about residing in rural settings, though.
There’s something desirous about living amongst nature and with few neighbors. I've always had an emotional connection to rural settings and enjoy the solitude (not to be confused with loneliness).
My grandparents lived on a farm in rural Indiana all their lives and there were times I contemplated buying their house when they passed on. I thought it would be great to live amongst rows of corn and soybeans, have time to write, and practice some hobby.
I spent time in their nearby town, though, and realized the attitudes of people weren’t quite the same as mine. Confederate flags were flown and life focused on farming, something of which I have no understanding. I'd be hard pressed to find a good vegetarian meal. Still, there was something to this idea of living apart and away from others.
I currently live in Boston and today I gravitate to the idea of moving to rural New England. I’d still like to work on my writing and develop some hobby, maybe have a kid and be a stay-at-home dad. Rural New England could be a nice mixture of my values, a connection to the environment, and an occasional vegetarian meal at a restaurant.
I think about what my loneliness would do if I didn’t live near others, though. That might spur me to become closer with the few neighbors who were within a mile of me. It's also likely I'd take part in activities in the town nearest to where I lived. It may be that living in a rural setting would be all I needed to develop those relationships I lack. From research I’ve seen, it appears loneliness affects everyone, whether we’re in the city or the country.
I’ve had many opportunities to make connections with people in the city. Yet, given the plethora of folks to choose from, I tend to find myself more picky than I would be if I was in a rural setting. And if I found myself in a place where I had no one else from which to choose to connect.
So it's possible I would find connections easier if I moved to rural New England or my grandparents’ farm. Or perhaps it’s more important I work at building community, no matter where I am. I love both rural and urban settings in equal amounts.
Thus, it’s a trade off of the simplicity and quiet of the rural areas with the number of opportunities available in the city. We don’t always get to choose but both can provide experiences of loneliness and social isolation. Yet both are also capable of building connections. In the end, I suppose it's important for me to always be making an effort no matter where I find myself.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.