One in four Canadians will experience loneliness at some point in time during their life. For me it was when I first started working. New job, new city, up on the mainland, limited friends or family close by. Thankfully, for me, this situation didn’t last very long – just a few short months. My wife joined me up along and we joined a bowling league with peers from my workplace. We soon had many good friends and started to feel part of the community.
Wikipedia describes loneliness as a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and physical factors.
People can experience loneliness for many reasons, and many life events may cause it, such as a lack of friendship relations during childhood and adolescence, or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person. At the same time, loneliness may be a symptom of another social or psychological problem, such as chronic depression.
Many people experience loneliness for the first time when they are left alone as infants. It is also a very common, though normally temporary, consequence of a breakup, divorce, or loss of any important long-term relationship. In these cases, it may stem both from the loss of a specific person and from the withdrawal from social circles caused by the event or the associated sadness.
The loss of a significant person in one’s life will typically initiate a grief response; in this situation, one might feel lonely, even while in the company of others. Loneliness may also occur after the birth of a child (often expressed in postpartum depression), after marriage, or following any other socially disruptive event, such as moving from one’s home town into an unfamiliar community, leading to homesickness. Loneliness can occur within unstable marriages or other close relationships of a similar nature, in which feelings present may include anger or resentment, or in which the feeling of love cannot be given or received. Loneliness may represent a dysfunction of communication, and can also result from places with low population densities in which there are comparatively few people to interact with. Loneliness can also be seen as a social phenomenon, capable of spreading like a disease. When one person in a group begins to feel lonely, this feeling can spread to others, increasing everybody’s risk for feelings of loneliness. People can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by other people.
According to the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain the National Trust has started a campaign at their historic sites to combat loneliness. At several sites visitors are encouraged to take a brightly coloured card from a wall and pledge to do what it says. “Check in on a neighbour” says one, “donate food” says another. “Make one extra smile” and “start talking” are other suggestions. Starting a conversation each day in your neighbourhood can be a radical act of community service.
Here in Canada the Montreal Gazette has reported that loneliness is a growing public health issue. Research suggests that around one in five Canadians report feeling lonely or isolated. Although elderly Canadians are particularly at risk due to shrinking social networks and limited mobility, a recent study suggests that loneliness affects people across our full lifespan.
Here in St. John’s Cochrane Street United Church has become actively involved in fighting loneliness. With the creation of Cochrane Centre our former church building has been given back to our neighbourhood and community. It now contains 10 supportive housing units and we will soon be opening another five senior’s units. The sanctuary now doubles as a concert venue where people can gather to hear music as a community. It has become a place where people can meet for a free haircut, to practice swordplay, yoga or create art in the new Hearthstone Art Hive. It is a place where people can just simply hang out, be safe and feel part of the neighbourhood and community.
The congregation at Cochrane Street still meets weekly for worship services on Sunday at 11:00 and warmly invites new members to become part of our expanding church community. We would like to once again become the church for the neighbourhood. Music is an important component of our spirituality and our inclusive choir reflects our belief that all are welcome. During this Lenten season we are sharing faith stories with other religions – Jewish, Quaker, Anglican to name a few. It’s all about having a better understanding and feeling connected within the community. Just recently at our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper some neighbours came to the supper hoping to meet other neighbours! This is exactly what we are trying to achieve.
Tim Reynolds is the treasurer of Cochrane Street United and is a member of the Advisory Committee for Guide to the Good.
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