I just finished a paper written by some PhD’s at the University of Essex entitled, “Understanding Loneliness: a Systematic Review of the Impact of Social Prescribing Initiatives on Loneliness.”

The authors make a helpful distinction between loneliness and isolation:

Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship that occurs when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that a person has, and those that that person wants.Though often associated with isolation, loneliness is distinct in that it is a feeling, while isolation is an objective measure of the number and quality of contacts that one has. Thus, it is possible to be lonely while surrounded by others, or to have very few social contacts but not feel lonely.”

Loneliness is thus a perception of the quality of my social interactions. I recall other reading which placed the important element of social contact on being able to share one’s difficulties — I imagine sharing one’s joys would also be relevant. What matters here is that loneliness is a factor of how I understand my relationships.

The paper went onto look at studies which had sought to address loneliness as a public health issue. Various interventions were examined whereby social workers of some sort sought to help lonely people find someone else with whom they could have companionship.

The “Aim” of one of the studies reads as follows, “Aim: Connecting people, helping them find purpose in their lives.”

It does make me wonder, what sort of world have we created for ourselves, when we have to train people to go out and try to get other people to feel lonely and to have a sense of purpose. If you had spoken to the dirt-poor ancestors of these people of England from 300 years before and said you were there to help not feel lonely and to have purpose, I suppose they would have thought you daft. What do you mean lonely? What do you mean purpose? We have far more stuff and apparently far less meaning.

We see people who have a frankly religious fury over things such as responding to the climate, which in the end is really an engineering problem (If rain patterns change, how do we move water to where it is needed); or a religious passion over identities which would have been non-existent just a few years ago. Perhaps it would be best to understand what we see as people eeking out a new religion for themselves. They are prescribing and demanding rites and responses to answer their loneliness and meaning.

These are functions which would have been performed